There has been seemingly endless discussion about a proposed sign bylaw amendment in the Village of Harrison Hot Springs. After multiple Council meetings and three readings, Council made the unusual decision Monday evening to send the bylaw back to staff for further revision.
At the March 16 meeting, Coun. Sonja Reyerse shared concerns raised by the Chamber of Commerce over the proposed sign bylaw, which was on the agenda for what is usually a perfunctory fourth and final reading.
Chamber directors proposed that signs would be allowed further from the business premises in the off-season months to attract the smaller volume of traffic towards businesses.
“Business is tough enough in the off-season,” Reyerse remarked.
Other issues raised at the March 16 Council meeting included signage placement for home-based businesses, hours for sandwich boards to be allowed on display and consequences for not obeying the revised bylaw. So, Mayor Leo Facio recommended the bylaw be referred back to staff for clarification and then sent back to Council at a later date.
The amended bylaw was first proposed to Council at the February 16 meeting, which included recommendations made by the Chamber of Commerce. After Council deliberation, the bylaw was altered then sent back to Council for the March 2 meeting.
The proposed changes would allow a business only one sandwich board outside of their establishment. The board could be placed no further than five metres from the business premises and must not be placed on boulevards, at the curb or be a “nuisance or impediment” to foot traffic, amongst other requirements. The current bylaw allows up to three sandwich boards per business, to be displayed adjacent to or within to 300 metres from the business premises.
There was ample discussion by councillors March 2, ranging from businesses on Lillooet Ave. facing a negative impact, proposals for new directional signage, the need for bylaws to be equitable for all businesses, the distance a sandwich board should be placed from business premises and whether the village can dictate primary languages used on signage.
“I’m hoping we can discuss what kind of position this puts businesses that find themselves on Lillooet,” said Coun. Samantha Piper. “They don’t benefit from improvements on Esplanade or heavy foot traffic.”
After the three readings passed with Piper opposed, the Village sent letters to business owners alerting them to the changes. Business owners had a lot to say on the matter.
Kas and Tina Kassam have owned the Village Pizzeria for 19 years. They see countless pedestrians go up and down Esplanade Ave. and never make their way one street up to their Lillooet Ave. location. They’ve had customers call for a pizza from one of the hotels then go back to the hotel to get directions because they can’t find the Kassam’s restaurant.
“It makes a major difference” having sandwich boards, says Kas Kassam.
They used to have one board on Hot Springs Road and one out front of their business. Last month, they decided to buy one more sandwich board, at a cost of $300, to put on the corner of Esplanade Ave. and St. Alice Street. They estimate that in the last month alone, they have had at least a 25 per cent increase in business from that new sign.
Lakefront Café owner Ryan Souliere says he’s not sure what the problem was with the way the bylaw was before and says the sign he places alongside Hot Springs Road helps draw traffic to his small restaurant. He says it’s no secret that the west side of Esplanade Ave. is the “hot spot” and businesses on the east side need to draw attention to visitors.
Frank Peters owns the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Harrison. He says while he agrees that the Village needs to maintain proper aesthetics, the challenge for businesses is operating year-round in a primarily summer-based tourist destination.
“I would like the Village to have their bylaws reflect the seasons, to allow us for the not-so-busy months to place our sandwich boards further,” says Peters.
At the March 16 Council meeting, Hungry Chef owner Mike Ronen showed up to voice his concerns. He said while he understands the reasons for the whole issue – “At one point the whole area was like the wild west of signage,” he remarked, he feels it will hurt his Lillooet Ave. business to not be allowed at least one other sign for businesses on Lilloett Ave. While he was at it, he raised the possibility of lighting and sidewalks up Lillooet Ave. too.
“We pay taxes too,” he stated. “For the past 15 years, [there’s] nothing happening on this street.”
The plan to change the current sign bylaw was first brought up at a committee of the whole meeting in July, 2014. According to a staff report, the committee discussed the “proliferation” of sandwich boards and wanted to look at limiting the number and distance of signs permitted per business.