RMWB council approves bylaw loosening rules on billboards, freestanding signs

Ban on third-party advertising ends as bylaw with consistent regulations passed. However, the new bylaw had a mixed reaction among speakers.

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Commercial advertising is now allowed on billboards and freestanding signs on private properties across the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. An amendment to the Land Use Bylaw was passed by council during their Tuesday meeting, lifting restrictions on paid advertising within Fort McMurray.

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Putting paid advertisements from third-parties on signs was banned in Fort McMurray until Tuesday’s vote. Centerfire Place was exempt, as were billboards in rural areas.

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“Right now, the way that the bylaw is written as it stands, the regulations are confusing and they’re not consistent throughout the region. We have different rules for downtown, we have different rules for the Urban Service Area and different rules for the rural areas,” said Amanda Haitas, the RMWB’s senior manager of planning and development, before council approved the new bylaw.

“We’re proposing that we create the same rules for all areas within the region so that the bylaw itself is easier to understand and it’s easier for us to also enforce it.”

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The new bylaw still bans third-party advertising on portable or fascia signs attached to buildings, but there are regulations for signs on fences, roofs and in windows. There are limits on a sign’s size, brightness, and proximity to residential areas.

Rules for election signs and non-profit groups remain the same. Permits for signs by highways will be approved or denied by the Alberta government. Signs inside buildings and at sports fields are not regulated by the RMWB.

Peace officers have authority to fine and take down signs that go against the bylaw. Haitas said businesses with illegal signs will be warned and have three months to remove them.

“Businesses find existing sign regulations confusing and want more flexible options for freestanding signs, including digital components and allowing for third-party advertising on them,” said Haitas.

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“The main changes for freestanding signs is to allow them on smaller lots, allow more per parcel and allow third-party advertising including digital. This will better support the business needs, creating an extra revenue stream through paid advertising.”

New bylaw gets mixed support from speakers

Council received two letters in support from Debbie Hahn of SpeedPro Signs and Lonnie Pilgrim of the Fort McMurray Public School District.

Bryce Kumka, a downtown business owner who has served on downtown development committees, agreed the existing sign bylaw is narrow and confusing for businesses. He was concerned some location regulations were “arbitrary” and was not comfortable with the enforcement regulations. But he was happy the new bylaw is uniform across the RMWB.

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Robbie Picard, owner of the advertising company Robbie Picard Media, took time to praise the Downtown Revitalization Incentives Program (DRIP), which offers grants to downtown businesses. As for the bylaw, he agreed with much of the bylaw but had concerns it could still punish local businesses. He also said existing signs that are non-compliant should be given opportunities to become compliant.

“Who cares what they do on their property if they make some money? It is absolutely essential that we reinvest in this community,” said Picard. “I support regulations. I support cleaning them up. I do not support telling private businesses what to do on their property, regardless of where it’s visible from.”

The bylaw passed, with only councillors Kendrick Cardinal and Shafiq Dogar opposed. Councillor Keith McGrath was absent. Councillor Stu Wigle excused himself due to a conflict of interest.

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