Jacobson Ford is being ordered by the City of Revelstoke to take down it’s new sign after it was erected on city property without approval.
A divided council voted to have staff enforce the city’s sign bylaw, but not without a lengthy debate and discussion that came down to a decision between working with the business and allowing the sign to stay; or enforcing the rules on a business that erected a sign without permission.
According to a city staff report, the Jacobson Ford sign issue dates back to 2006, when a portable sign they put up was first identified as a problem. However, no action was taken until the fall of 2011, when the city sent Jacobson a letter saying the sign was illegal and asked it to be moved. The owner of the dealership met with city staff, but nothing came of the issue.
In January, staff once again approached Jacobson about the portable sign. The sign was taken down and in May, a permanent sign was constructed on a concrete base on a grassy stretch of the city-owned boulevard alongside Victoria Road next to the dealership.
“The City was not contacted prior to the work in the boulevard and did not approve the subject works,” the report states.
The city responded on June 11 by ordering Jacobson to take down the sign. Jacobson owner Mike Vandermeer replied on June 18 with a letter to mayor and council asking for permission to keep the sign.
Vandermeer argued that the old sign was legal; that Jacobson maintains the boulevard at its own cost, thereby increasing its property value and the taxes it pays to the city; that there were no complaints about the sign, and that it was essential to business.
“We have incurred significant expense to erect a sign that better represents our business,” Vandermeer wrote. “For the reasons noted above, we ask for your support for us to be able to keep this sign in its present state.”
The letter was presented to council at its June 24 meeting, when it was referred to the Development Services Committee for a recommendation. The committee sent the matter back to council with the recommendation that staff enforce the sign bylaw.
Vandermeer sent another letter to council, saying Jacobson had simply complied with what the city had asked for by replacing the temporary sign with a permanent one that better matched its building.
He asked council to pass a motion allowing road signs like Jacobson’s, like the one in Salmon Arm.
“They introduced a permit system for road signs such as ours. This set rules for businesses that wanted such signs and created a revenue stream for the City,” he wrote. “We ask that you consider putting forth such a motion to allow permits for these signs and allow ours to remain in place for the duration.
“After all, a business with no sign, is a sign of no business.”
Council’s debate centred around several questions: Do you allow an exception to the rules if you deem the sign inoffensive, or the business too valuable? Or do you avoid setting precedent for other sign applications by enforcing the bylaw?
In a 4–2 vote, council voted to have staff enforce the bylaw and order Jacobson to take down the sign — even though they agreed that the sign was attractive and better than what existed before.
“I would wish we could withdraw this and let the sign stay as it is without enforcement, but I think regardless of who it is, if someone finds it offensive, or if it doesn’t meet our bylaws, we still need to enforce it,” said councillor Phil Welock.
Coun. Steve Bender expressed worry that allowing the sign would set a precedent for other businesses to do as they please. “I am still concerned that if that goes through, if it is allowed to stay there, this council and following councils will constantly have problems with locations of signs,” he said.
Voting against the motion were Tony Scarcella and Gary Starling. Scarcella made the argument that business knows best.
“That sign has been there for the past 10 years and I think Jacobson did it in good faith building that pad which looks much, much better,” he said. “That sign should stay.”
Later, he said that telling a business where and what to put on its sign was a “no-no”.
“Business knows more than anybody else where to put the sign and what to put on the sign,” he said. “To take a sign out of an existing business and tell them they can’t have their sign, it’s a no-no.”
Starling was of the mind that the city should work with Jacobson to find a way for them to keep the new sign. He said the city should have acted on the sign in 2006 when it was first noticed as an issue — not wait until 2011. This sent a signal to Jacobson the sign was OK, he said.
“I really struggle with this,” he said. “I know we have bylaws and need to enforce them… In this case I think the sign was there for a long time and I don’t see enforcement as the right action this time. I think we need to work with this owner and perhaps come up with a sign that falls within the bylaw and at the same time would please both parties.”
Mayor David Raven was cagey in his remarks, directing the debate by posing a series of questions to council. He said council could go back to approving signs on a case-by-case basis, which would be less efficient. He ended up voting alongside Bender, Welock and Linda Nixon to have the sign removed, agreeing with Bender’s concerns about setting precedent that could affect staff’s future dealings with council.
“I am of mixed minds, myself, but what really irks me is the fact someone would build a sign on city property without asking,” he said.
Vandermeer was present at the meeting but he was not given a chance to speak. He left following the debate and has not returned calls for an interview.