Sign of the times: City wants to milk boards

Politicians see an opportunity in street advertisements

Victoria is looking to cash in on the proliferation of sidewalk sign boards cluttering city streets.

Despite a bylaw prohibiting the portable signs, they compete with everything from garbage cans and lamp posts to trees, bike racks and fire hydrants for limited sidewalk space.

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"This is important to take a look at," Mayor Dean Fortin said. "We have a proliferation of these sign boards. So it is at a stage where we can benefit by regulating them," Fortin said. "Obviously, some of the conflicts we are having are with pedestrians, especially seniors and the handicapped trying to ensure there's room to get around these sign boards."

On Thursday, Victoria councillors instructed staff to investigate options to allow the use of portable signs on public property, to study potential fees that could be charged, and to consult with businesses and others before bringing forward recommendations for bylaw amendments.

While a staff report suggested the city might charge $25 to $50 a year to cover the costs of licensing, some councillors said fees should be much higher.

"That's not good enough," Coun. Lisa Helps said. "While we don't want to gouge businesses, I think we should ask businesses what they would be willing to pay, not just to cover the costs incurred in terms of implementing this but for the use of public space as well.

"What is that square footage of public space worth on a monthly basis?"

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon, a downtown restaurateur, agreed, saying a sign board is a valuable business tool that shouldn't be undersold.

"To me, a sign board shows, when I look down the street, if a business is open," Gudgeon said. "I think $25 to $50 is far too little to charge for the opportunity to have this advertising on public property."

Gudgeon suggested looking to other cities to see what they charge. There would need to be strict guidelines for size and placement, and regulations mandating that they be brought indoors at night and not chained outside, she said.

While city bylaws prohibit the use of sign boards in public spaces, council informally told bylaw staff about four years ago to enforce the prohibition only in cases of public safety concerns, a staff report says.

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