Courtenay City Council appears to have opened the door for businesses to erect electronic message boards, despite unfavorable public opinion of digital signage.
At its Nov. 20 meeting, council defied its existing sign bylaw and approved a variance for an electronic message board for Prime Chophouse, a restaurant visible, but not accessible, from Ryan Road.
Chophouse owner Kory Wagstaff told council people have difficulty finding his restaurant, which is threatening the viability of his business. He said his location makes it a challenge to stay open for lunch and the business itself may not be sustainable without help from the city.
Wagstaff argued that digital signs are more representative of “the style of the Comox Valley.”
The current sign bylaw prohibits electronic message boards except for institutional uses. The Lewis Park Recreation Centre has one, as does St. George’s Church and Mark Isfeld High School.
Prior to 2013, the city disallowed all such signs. But the parents association at Isfeld High School lobbied council to amend its bylaw after they had raised the funds for an electronic sign.
A staff member told council that the city receives frequent requests from private businesses for electronic signs, but rejects them because during the 2013 public hearings for the Isfeld amendment, people were clearly opposed to them. Staff said people don’t like the esthetics and the added illumination of digital signs.
Council member David Frisch moved to reject the Chophouse application for a development variance permit, because “The city … sign bylaw was passed in 2013 to ensure that the character and visual appearance of our community would be maintained, and that traffic safety would not be compromised.”
Frisch’s motion was supported by councilors Doug Hillian and Rebecca Lennox.
But they lost the battle to Mayor Larry Jangula and councilors Erik Eriksson, Bob Wells and Mano Theos. Their support seemed to be based on the Chophouse’s support of local charities, that it’s a “great restaurant” and its location has access problems.
The most surprising support came from Councilor Eriksson, who has announced his candidacy for mayor in this fall’s elections. He had previously opposed the electronic sign at the Lewis Centre, but supported this variance application.
“I support this … it’s a great restaurant,” he said.
Eriksson later said via email that “ Lighted digital message signs are becoming more commonplace, where appropriate … I think the applicant made a good case for a variance ….”
Only Mayor Jangula addressed the key issue of whether council was opening a Pandora’s Box.
In an emailed statement to Decafnation, Jangula said, “During the meeting I commented that this was a unique problem requiring a unique solution. This is not a precedent for other electronic signs in Courtenay, and there are no plans to update the sign bylaw at this time.”
“Prime Chophouse has some unusual access problems,” Jangula said. “Council acknowledged that the lack of access off Ryan Road, which is under MoT jurisdiction, has been a challenge for this business.”
But Councilor Hillian worried about precedent.
“There’ll be no rationale for refusing any future (similar) requests,” he said.
Lennox told Decafnation, “While I have compassion for the inconvenience people have when trying to locate the entrance to The Prime Chop House, I didn’t support the resolution.
“I feel the community has been very clear about it’s hopes for modest signs without illumination and felt the applicant could have used a traditional sign to convey the same information,” she said.
Frisch, who moved the motion to reject the private business sign, said electronic message boards are allowed at schools, churches, rec centres and other public assembly locations.
“I believe this reflects the general will of our community and I support the idea that too much signage detracts from our natural surroundings, while providing limited benefits to our citizens,” Frisch said. “I am always open to revisit and discuss our bylaws and would consider variances as well. However, the benefits of changed and variances must be in line with our community values and must not simply be for the sole benefit of a few.”
Lennox and Frisch offered solutions other than an electronic sign for the Chophouse dilemma, but Jangula shot them down saying the sign bylaw wouldn’t permit those concepts.
But, in fact, those alternate solutions could have been permitted by a variance granted by council, which it then proceeded to grant the business owner.
Brace yourself and get out the snow shovels, we’re likely to have a white Christmas. Read it and weep here.
The Cumberland Community Forest Society hopes to launch a series of “science pub” events in 2018. Experts will give talks about topics related to the ecology of natural habitats in a pub environment. Read it here.
An online map that visualizes the effects of rising sea levels has been launched by the CVRD — no, not the Comox Valley Regional District. It’s the Cowichan Valley RD. Read about it here.
Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017
The City of Courtenay will begin a two-year effort to improve air quality with new wood stove regulations and an education program. Read it here.
Project Watershed has raised 20 percent of its $500,000 fundraising goal to purchase and restore the former Fields Sawmill site, now known as the Kus-kus-sum project. Read it here.
The B.C. government has banned grizzly-bear hunting for all, except First Nations. The hunt “is not socially acceptable.” Read it here.
The state of Washington has revoked the lease of the Puget Sound firm farm where 300,000 Atlantic salmon escaped last summer and has polluted water with crumbling Styrofoam. Read it here.
B.C. Ferries has added extra afternoon sailings on the Hornby Island and Denman Island route in response to requests from islanders. Read it here.
On January 1 every year, the Decafnation presents its annual collective Book Report. Thanks to everyone who took the time to share short reviews of books they enjoyed during the past year. You can read last year’s Book Report here.
Mary Lee — What on Earth am I here For? by Rick Warren. Why? To find the answer to the ultimate question.
Arzeena Hamir — Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s a glimpse at a post-apocalyptic Canada
Ken Adney — How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. And I’m currently re-reading Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers, which holds up as a simple introduction to economic thought (and the economists).
Brent Reid — Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Finnegan portrays his lifelong obsession with surfing the most challenging beaches in the world–some of them previously undiscovered. His descriptions of his fellow surfers, the code they follow, the magnificent beaches and breaks they find, and the death-defying rides they take are fascinating.
Maingon Loys — Defending Giants by Darren Frederick Speece was a pretty illuminating read. It is a history of the Redwood Wars, very useful insights. It makes a very good case exposing how conservation strategy is only transitory — somewhere human beings have to re-evaluate their priorities
Joe Scuderi — Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankel. It’s short but profound. Hillbilly Elegy was also excellent.
Kim Sleno — A Column of Fire by Ken Follett. Read the first of this trilogy Christmas Day 1989. As a lover of history it gave me a glimpse of the past.
Jessie Kerr — I Was Told To Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet. The story of a German Muslim reporter who traveled to interview several ISIS leaders. She reported for a major German daily, The Washington Post and the NY Times. Because she produced balanced stories, those leaders agreed to talk to her. Oddly, I found her stories heartening because she explores her own and other Muslim citizens’ interest in understanding the motivation behind the often violent solutions pursued by these extreme Jihadist groups. I heard her interviewed on CBC’s The Current; I knew then that I must read her book.
Jodi Le Masurier — Into the Magic Shop by James Doty
Gordon Mason — The Shadow of Kilimanjaro, on foot across east Africa by Rick Ridgeway. A wonderful journey through a fascinating area in Kenya, Tsavo National Park. An incredible journey on foot from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to the Indian Ocean, offering a rare view of East Africa as it is today and how it once was before the inclusion of European civilization.
Dennis Crockford — All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr … wonderful description of the growing characters. And a very different writing style … flipping between the two characters every few pages … off-putting to some but I really enjoyed it.
Wayne Bradley — Ravensong by Lee Maracle. Maybe its best because I read it last, who knows? I realize that I am very late for the Lee Maracle party, but I loved Ravensong! Great writing style with good character development, and chalk full of First Nations perspectives. Written i early 1990s, I think, but with perspectives on First Nations / settler relations that are startlingly relevant today.
Bill Morrison — The Boys in the Boat by James Brown. An epic rowing story about the struggle for gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics by an unknown Washington team.
Brad Morgan — Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. A mix of American history, spirituality and allegorical surrealism out of a story about Abraham Lincoln’s grief over the death of his 11-year-old son.
Richard Schmidt — Sing, Unburied, Sin By Jesmyn Ward. A story about the love-hate tensions between races as a black woman and her children take a road trip through Mississippi to pick up her white husband from prison.
Allison Grey — Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. A wonderful love story about how place can affect the heart.
Bobbi Ellison — Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. A WWII-era tale about connecting disparate stories about a father’s disappearance and the rise of a mobster and the host of larger issues this journey reveals.
John Vernon — The Future is History by Masha Gessen. Why post-Soviet Russia rejected democracy for Putin and the threat he poses.
Marcia Sorenson — Hunger by Roxane Gay. How an early-life sexual assault shaped this woman’s body image for life.
George Le Masurier — The Force by Don Winslow. Fictional but insightful peek into the shady world of “dirty” cops in the NYPD. It makes “Serpico,” “The Departed” and “Donnie Brasco” seem tame and shallow by comparison.