Ahead of the Game? or Out to Lunch?
Ron Bolin — October 6, 2010
How Progressive can any city be? At Monday’s Council meeting, our Councillors, after a baffling discussion and in a five to four vote, decided that they should award a Development Variance Permit relative to a development bylaw that doesn’t yet exist. Now that is really progressive. It was a spectacle to see (and you can view it here . When the video starts, you can jump through the document and if you go to items 11 (a) and (b) you can see the discussion which took place regarding the adoption of “Sign Amendment Bylaw 2010 No. 7081” (To permit LED/animated signs) and then the discussion of the variance permit.
The Bylaw was moved up from agenda item 13 (f) so as to precede discussion of a variance permit to Bylaw 2010 No. 7081. At its last meeting, Council overrode Staff’s recommendation for a public meeting on LED signs and gave the bylaw its first three readings. See the video here (sections 11 (a) and 15 (e) in the agenda). On October 4, and following presentations against either or both of the bylaw and the variance from the Province, from the city’s own professional Design Advisory Panel and from arguably one of Nanaimo’s biggest and best developers advising that neither the
bylaw nor thus the variance were ready for prime time, Council, in its inimitable and too often incoherent fashion, sent the bylaw back to Staff for further review (a good move which kept the bylaw itself from final passage in its incomplete form), and then, having done that, proceeded to pass 5 to 4 a variance to that bylaw which permits three major variances to our present bylaw and an unknown number to the bylaw which does not yet exist. Only in Nanaimo…
Keep your eyes and ears peeled. Such nonsense will come back to Council. Will you be asked for your opinion?
It is instructive to hear some Councillors hold forth about the coming business boom in Nanaimo once “modern technology” LED signs are introduced, apparently forgetting about the fact that given the technology now available in car GPS systems, in Ipods and cellular and digital phones that LED’s signs are already redundant.
apparently forgetting about the fact that given the technology now available in car GPS systems, in Ipods and cellular and digital phones that LED’s signs are already redundant.
How would any of these devices alert a passerby to the presence of a business they are not aware of? If LED signs are redundant, then all signs are also redundant. Oh, wait a minute they do help you identify a place of business after all.
What will Nanaimo look like if we erect 50′ LED signs everywhere for people who do not know where they want to go? A simple inquiry on an Ipad or Iphone asking either for Nanaimo Boston Pizza or Nanaimo restaurants can get either a map or written or verbal driving instructions to the front door. GPS services can be had which can bring up upcoming businesses of a desired type (admitedly I do not know whether this service is available in Nanaimo). At any rate by these methods no signs at all are required though I suppose that a sign over the door would be reassuring, i.e. we are not talking about signs per se, but about the intrusion of huge flashing signs into the lives of the 95% of us who know where we are going for the 5% who are too disorganized to know what they want or where they are going.
Tell McDonalds that those Golden Arch signs have no benefit to their business.
Curious? How many businesses have you run actually??
You may be opposed to the imagined visual pollution LED signs pose but suggesting that signs are redundant is just a silly argument.
Those Golden Arches are from another time when modern technology was not available. I have, in fact, run a business where I learned some very hard lessons. One of them was to be very careful about the business before jumping into it.
If you read carefully, I suggested that a sign over the door would be reassuring. I was not dismissing signs entirely, merely confining their pollution to the premises.
Drive north out of town and tell me if the forest of signs along the reserve would be improved if they were animated LEDs? or animated neon for that matter. It looks like a scene out of Blade Runner.
Are any of the billboards on the reserve limited to 100 square feet? I don’t think so. If they were, YES I do think it would be an improvement over what is there now.
As to the the idea there will be a sea of 50′ LED signs, that is also nonsense. Few businesses are going to layout $150,000 on 50′ signs. For that matter many businesses simply don’t have the room to install a 100 square foot sign.
Business would not spend thousands of dollars on signs that do not work. The technologies you are talking about would never replace the value of a sign.
This whole sign business, is typical of Nanaimo decision makers in most matters. One day they say yea and one day it is nay.
Mr. Dithers couldn’t hold a candle to this bunch.
At least they are giving the chattering class something to chatter about.
As one interested citizen to another, we may agree to disagree over the value and future of signs. As someone who watches out Council, we may agree that they are sometimes too prone to make decisions at haste which they may later repent at leisure (the deal with Millennium, the Jerry Berry affair, etc.).
As for a sea of signs, we will see. If such a sign were to bring in the kind of money that is being touted as coming with this one, there will surely be many -and with the precedent set (or is it)- Council will be hard pressed to turn others down. If such a sign could save a business, why shouldn’t everyone have one and why do so many businesses fail?
Just to note that such discussions about signs have a significant history, this from an on-line history of signs:
“After the Dark Ages, the increase in trade, commerce and wealth encouraged increasingly elaborate and artistic forms of trade signs. The use of carvings, bright paint, ornamental iron and even gilding encouraged competition between merchants to see who could create the most elaborate signs. In the early 1700’s the very first sign regulations were put in place to protect the public from large signs hanging too far into the narrow streets.”
Whether the Boston Pizza sign will save that business or not is pure speculation at this point. As a business there may be MANY other reasons for it’s success or failure.
That particular business is so poorly situated that I am amazed that a company like Boston Pizza with their business savvy wanted that location in the first place.
The whole idea of allowing or not allowing LED signs for reasons of appearances I would have thought could be handled simply with a size limit. I thought that 100 square feet was a reasonable size as that is about the size of the large lawn signs local politicians put out at election time.
Few small businesses are likely to even entertain such signage as they simply don’t have the display room for them. Surely no business would cover up a great window display with an LED sign as it would be a detriment to business.
Signs are just another form of promotion and advertising and if they were of no value then you would not see every major corporation using them at their outlets.
Perhaps, if your idea of business being able to succeed without signs has merit you could try an experiment.
Rent a location, don’t sign it, don’t advertise or promote it and hope like hell that people find you using their cell phone and GPS systems.
Sounds like a business plan that the government would approve of.
What is not speculative at this time is that Council has given a provocative variance to an as yet unfinished bylaw premised solely on a pizza sign which you do agree IS speculative. Is this reasonable. We are not yet at the stage of having a rational discussion about signs per se.
I grant you that there may be relatively few who will have or can afford such large outside signs other than large and usually off shore franchises, but we will see more than enough of them. And, if allowed, we will see all kinds of smaller animated signs in the windows of those who find themselves in competitive businesses where market saturation is a problem and purchasing decisions are made on the fly. In such cases sign wars may hype competition, leading to the demise of some to the benefit of others. I have nothing against this in particular except that the wars lead to more and more visual pollution of a city which I find, in its bones, to have exceptional beauty. If signs could increase the total amount of business in a city rather than simply move it around a bit at the edges, I would like to see the statistics.
The majority of local businesses will rely on the kinds of signs they have used in the past as they cannot or won’t invest in something that is not likely to bring them new business and will rely as they do now on newspaper and telephone book advertising. (Please note that at no time did I ever indicate that there should be no advertising or promotion.) We can have a general discussion about signs in the landscape when -and if- the sign bylaw comes before the public. It should be noted that in the present circumstance, it appears that the only way to get rid of the provocative variance that did pass, is to kill LEDs in the bylaw itself. We will see if citizens are interested in this issue and if so, where they come down on it.
Speaking of the government, the sign argument acts much as does government. Make big, bright, scintillating promises and then provide the barely adequate.
Your original statement suggested that other modern technology rendered LED signs redundant, yes? If LED signs are redundant as business drivers, then so are other signs. You seem to be flip flopping a bit. You should be on council.
I do not agree with the variance given Boston Pizza at all. Whether the LED is allowed or not, the sign still has the approval to be erected, even if it does not have the LED component.
However, that has nothing to do with the LED sign bylaw, and the flip flop that this council demonstrates too frequently.
If memory serves, the sign committee came down against LED signs, council did not agree, the chamber of commerce and business community got together and refined rules governing LED signs, council seemed to agree, now when they were just about to pass the bylaw they have changed their minds once again. And all of this after how many years considering it?
Mr. Dithers, had nothing on these guys.
As for how many businesses will spend dough on signs, I doubt it will change much from the present. Those with the bucks can still erect large illuminated signs far bigger than 100 square feet which can arguably create just as much visual pollution.
I have never seen an example of the type of signs the current Luddite movement seems to be against. They just seem to be generally against LED signs …. just because. The one on the end of the conference centre does not seem to be causing any of the problems that seem to be feared by the dithering crowd.
It’s a good thing they weren’t also in charge of whether or not electricity would replace coal oil.
Technology marches on, but alas not in Nanaimo. The ‘against everything’ crowd strikes once again!
My statements are meant to suggest that modern technology is rendering LED and other signs which are primarily attention grabbers, rather than locators, redundant. I do not want to suggest that we are there yet, even though we are well on the way. What I really don’t want to see is a smear across the landscape of redundant attention grabbers left over when the transition is completed.
As for Council’s dithering, I agree. But I would rather see dithering than marching unprepared into the mouth of a sign war. Certainly a number of important public bodies have come forward to oppose the bylaw as it stands. And the public has not been approached in any meaningful manner. Perhaps this controversy will bring that about.
I further agree with you that LEDs per se are not the entire issue. Big distracting signs of any kind should be avoided and will likewise be left behind. Nor should the tail wag the dog as has happened in this case where a single business is allowed to overturn the entire sign bylaw applecart, LED or no.
I tend to agree with you about the LED sign on the conference centre, but when I ask myself what it is accomplishing I can’t come up with any reason for it and a number against it. People coming to town could identify that this is the conference centre with a simple static sign. I don’t believe that anyone driving by will be tempted to stop there due to some activity on that sign unless it was their destination already. At the same time, it presents to one and all a skimpy program that speaks loudly to its failed status.
So we agree on a number of things. What we do not seem to agree on is the state of technology and whether LEDs or other imposing signs are the state of the art or a passing fancy. I know that the nay-sayer/against-everything name calling has had considerable success in this town, but it is time that rational discussion should take place and name calling end. And I do recognize that my view is only one of many on this issue, which, as do most such arguments in the end, depends on who has a dog in the fight. Democracy is premised on the idea that those who have the most dogs in the fight should win. To hold the contrary is believe that it is the owner of the biggest dog in the fight who should prevail. Bring on the dogs!
“a smear across the landscape of redundant attention grabbers’ …. why would an LED sign be anymore of a ‘smear’ than a painted 4 x 8 sheet of plywood?
Council had a committee that did study the issue at great length, yes? Council then rejected that committees recommendation, yes? Then the Chamber addressed the problem and brought forward suggestions, yes? Why this was put off once again, last week is beyond me, what has changed about the issue in the last year or so?
If the LED on the conference centre is not a problem (which is about 2 – 3 times larger than signs allowed by the proposed bylaw) then what is the problem? You, can’t see them having any use? I disagree, many helpful messages could be displayed there, such as when the next council meeting is, what’s on at the Port Theatre, when the clippers are playing etc. etc.
Not everyone sits around reading newspapers and blogs you know. It could be a useful form of communication.
Budget Glass on the highway by the Wellington Hall, has a sign on which they change the message regularly. Sometimes they advertise a product or service, and other times they post a humorous saying. Why would that sign be anymore of a problem if it were an LED sign displaying a nice blue background and white lettering??
There seems little substance behind the ‘against LED’s just because’ crowd’s argument.
For example you firstly suggest they are redundant. Not so, they will not be replaced by GPS and cellphones. The comparison to the billboards on the reserve is a comparison designed to associate a 100 square foot sign with the monstrous billboards on the reserve. Again, no substance to the argument and a misleading example.
Unless, more basis can be brought as to why the opposition, the argument opposing the use of LED signs NO BIGGER THAN 100 sq. ft., simply lacks any credibility.
Unless of course, it is simply ‘we are against it, just because’.
The rules hammered out by the Chamber would pretty much prevent the wildly animated, accident causing, sea of visual pollution, those opposed would like to portray.
I doubt if some people will ever be convinced and will continue to put forward arguments without merit in the hopes they can put an end to LED signs.
You do realize there is a difference between LED signs and LCD signs? The LED signs given the limitations proposed in the nearly passed bylaw, would create no more visual pollution than currently allowed illuminated signs, or ‘reader’ signs using older technology.
But not in Nanaimo …… just because!!
An LED is larger smear across the landscape for the very reasons that one might want an LED. It is Brighter, it can be Varied by message(s), by animation, etc. No doubt in my mind. Depending on cost, the LED at the same level of design is superior because it projects itself on the environment so much more insistently.
And yes,yes, and yes. You have described the progress of the discussion to date. But the very fact that it hasn’t yet been adopted demonstrates the difficulty of the subject. A google search on LED signs shows a worldwide tendency to the same kinds of discussions as we are having here. The safety record of the signs is in dispute as is their true value to a municipality as a generator of economic activity as opposed to a mere redistributor of same. This latter may have value for a few individuals, but punishes others and places a burden of visual pollution on everyone. If these signs did not command attention, they would not be doing their job.
We are poverty stricken indeed if the primary source of information about our municipal environment is to be left to changing LED signs which we read while speeding along our city streets. In my opinion and for the reasons previously given, the city’s LED sign on the Conference Centre is worse than useless and should be scrapped.
You may recall that I indicated that I thought LED signs, like other big attention grabber signs which I put into the same boat, though they may be less dramatic, are becoming redundant as technology changes -and it is doing so rapidly. A voice telling me where to turn to get somewhere is much superior to driving around aimlessly hoping to find a sign -and it keeps my eyes on the road. As this technology changes rapidly, it is my opinion, that investing is large “grabber” signs in general and LED signs in particular which are expensive to buy and to operate is akin to getting into the horse and buggy business at the same time the automobile is taking off. And it is a distraction from the future. It is not that I will immediately go out of business with buggies, but my greater chance of growth would lie in the Automobile.
I have stated repeatedly that I am against LED because they are a source of additional visual pollution which I take as a fact. I would say the same if the signs, LED, neon, backlit, etc. were all showing reproductions of the 100 best oil paintings of all times. There is a human environment out there and I don’t want to see it covered up with artificiality. From an economic point of view I believe them to be a bad investment and if it weren’t for the above, I would be happy to let folks invest in LED and other signs just as I didn’t dispute their right to invest in Enron. Enron did not get in my face.
I agree that a 100 sq. ft. limit is better than no limit, but would point out that in the case of the reserve signs, if they were more limited in size that they would probably increase in number per km, not that it makes much difference to our discussion here.
I am not sure what LCD signs have to do with it, nor electronic paper for that matter. I have never seen either any size larger than a Kindle, though I admit I have not seen everything.
Thus Council stands between those who oppose visual pollution and those who see personal gain. The decision is not easy, particularly given the disputes on these issues all over the world. One wishes them well in playing Solomon. They will probably split the baby, but all this is most assuredly NOT ….just because!!
There is another one of those red herring, throwing out the safety issue. If an electric appliance or device has passed a CSA test, you can rest assured they do not have safety issues.
The sign on the conference centre could very well be some peoples primary source of info, not everyone has the luxury of spending their days reading papers and blogs all the time.
To suggest it has no value, again takes away from the strength of your argument.
A sign’s value to a business can be decided by the business community, whether you see the commercial value or not, is unimportant.
Being able to let people know you are offering a 25% off sale, via a simple sign message, can save a business thousands of dollars that newspaper advertising would cost.
We recognize that it is business that creates the jobs and employs people, perhaps this is of no concern to the recent retirees who have come here, but it sure matters to the young people looking for a job.
If these signs help them succeed, why put a road block in their way? Especially when the only objection is your idea of what looks right.
By the way, have you ever actually seen an LED sign??
I would be happy to read the studies that show that these signs have passed their traffic safety tests balanced against those which show the opposite.
The sayings in bubble gum wrappers may be some peoples primary source of info, but please tell me what the conference centre sign says that can be primary info to anybody. As far as I know all it shows are the days meagre events at the centre, if there are any. Is there more? And could you please tell me what my opinion that the LED nature of the sign has no additional value takes away from my argument. I am at a loss here.
I have previously agreed that a sign can have a value to a business. The question revolves around the value to the community: whether the value to a particular business outweighs the value to other businesses or to the community at large. Borrowing from Peter to Pay Paul may enhance Peter, but the value to the community of Paul’s demise is probably negative, especially when accompanied by visual pollution. The last I heard, the essence of capitalism resides in the value of its products rather than the size of its signs. And I have still heard no evidence that signs grow wealth rather than simply redistributing it.
Similarly, there is no question that business creates jobs, but I put it to you that most of the businesses that really need competitive signage because they are providing commodity items are businesses that do not pay wages which will support a family, i.e. they create McJobs: surely better than no jobs at all, but not something to aim for. Council’s time and attention might be better spent in figuring out how to get higher paying jobs here in technology, processing or assembling.
But this conversation may be becoming a bit too abstract. We each have a right to our opinion and in the end Council and, hopefully, the jury of public opinion will settle it. As I said previously, I suspect that Council will divide the baby and try to please everyone and give us a decision that we can all live with -and complain about. Signs are not the most important issue on earth, LED or otherwise.
But giving variance permits for non-existent bylaws, or overriding community standards on behalf of a single business is not trivial.
And oh yes, I have seen LED signs. There is one animated LED sign that has been in operation for years in defiance of our bylaws on Bowen Road. I prefer the law to lawlessness, even when the law is an ass. If the law needs to be changed, so be it. But the process whereby that decision is made is not so simple as to be defined by either your opinion or mine.
The opposition to the LED sign is based on personal dislike for what is perceived to be loud and annoying signs, probably the opponents don’t like loud music either.
As for traffic safety there is a very loud and distracting sign at the southend of Duncan. Has that become a high accident zone as a result. Incidentally, it is huge by comparison a 100 sq. ft. sign.
If animated signs (not illustrated) are of such concern, then why does the Province use them to tell people about ferry times, traffic delays etc. etc.?? Just more double talk.
Are the high accident zones in Nanaimo sign related?
The provisions in the proposed bylaw limited size to 50% of window space, dimmers based on weather and light conditions, had to be off from 10:00 pm – 6:00 am, basically no larger than a sheet of plywood.
I think the crowd opposed simply don’t like what they perceive to be annoying brightly lit signs. All of which can currently be used quite legally using neon and back lighting within the current sign bylaw. This new technology simply offers business people what could be a very effective tool to advertise their business. And as usual Nanaimo is continuing to earn it’s reputation for the Dithering Capital of Canada.
This whole notion of moving into a new era was opposed by the Luddites on council and at city hall from the beginning. Councilor McNabb commented that when he headed up the committee to research the issue that “two councilors were opposed as was city staff right from the beginning’ he went on to say he asked at that time what was the point of the exercise since those doing the study were biased from the beginning.
As to public opinion, had this council finally been able to make a decision, rather than waffling again, in one year the public could tell council to reverse the bylaw, as that was also a bylaw, which I thought was passed. Although knowing this bunch, that probably changed too.
One of the serious issues facing Nanaimo is what will it have left as an economic base after the current crop of well to do retirees moves from the condos to the cemetery? Retail is about the only non-government sector that offers even a glimmer of hope for future generations to make a living, and now the over the hill crowd want to interfere with that also.
To say that the LED sign can have benefit to business but your concern is perceived community benefit clearly demonstrates your bias.
You also seem opposed the notion that the marketplace should be based on competition. Unless you are advocating state owned business and all retail wealth be evenly distributed, the competitive forces are what should determine which business lasts.
The argument that signs only benefit low paying jobs suggests they are of little community value and therefore don’t need to benefit from the use of a sign? What do you propose instead…. everyone work for the government? Great Idea.
As for this council demonstrating the wisdom of Solomon, that is simply the best laugh I have had in a long time. I wonder who helps them chose their sock color in the morning, as I doubt them capable of making decisions without considerable help.
Personal likes and dislikes rule the world. Ask any businessman. And yes, many of us don’t like loud music either. No differences, no horse races.
I have heard many titles for Nanaimo over the years, but dithering wasn’t one of them. We were definite about the conference centre; we were definite that we wanted to give Mr. Berry about $120,000 more than necessary to go away; we are definitely into spot rezoning; we are definitely; we are definitely increasing taxation at a rate 3 times that of the CPI. How can you say that Council dithers?
We are in agreement about what Nanaimo will have left as an economic base when pensions collapse or are overtaken by inflation, but the jobs we are creating don’t create much more than raw survival.
As indicated several times -and you have not even attempted to refute- signs may redistribute wealth in a city, but they do not create it except among the sign dealers.
I am not, and have so stated previously, opposed to the notion of competition. But it should be premised on the invention and quality of products and not on signs. In our commoditized world, signs and brands have overwhelmed the products which they represent. This leads to others elsewhere in the world making most of the products which we buy while we stand on the street corner peddling brands and signs. What we have is a parody of capitalism.
Communism in Russia and in China have shown that an economy run by fiat can do wonders in the short term, but cannot run indefinitely as the game becomes more complex. It takes many economic decision makers in many different environmental niches to ensure that, even if some attempts fail, others will survive. This is the strength of capitalism. But it burns itself out when competition stops building better products and turns to eating its own children through cut-throat competition based on hype.
Predatory capitalism fails on the same basis as corporatism leads to monopolistic powers not very different from those of communism but the fiat rules come from monopolistic or oligarchical groups rather than the government. It would be nice if the world could be defined by a simple set of rules that were universal in time and place, but my experience is that these theories and the actions to which they lead have to cycle back and forth for humanity to survive.
Sorry to have gone into territory removed one or two ranks from the subject of signs, but you led me there. (That’s a pun, son.)
As for our Council and the wisdom of Solomon, I can hope, can’t I?
This has been interesting, but unless someone comes along with some new ideas on this subject, I think, for better or for worse, I have said all that I want to say on the topic (and more). Time will tell what is to happen with LED signs. I am sure that in any event, the world will not be greatly affected.
“As indicated several times -and you have not even attempted to refute- signs may redistribute wealth in a city, but they do not create it except among the sign dealers.”
You seem to presume that ALL Nanaimo retail comes from only local residents who are very much aware of where ALL the businesses seem to be located.
You seem ignorant of the fact that Nanaimo does not now, nor never has depended soley upon locals to support the acres and acres of retail.
The retail trading boundaries of Nanaimo extend well beyond Cassidy and Lantzville.
Anyone from outside of town, could well be persuaded to leave some money behind, simply because they see a 100% OFF Sale sign as they are cruising through town.
Your logic about signs merely redistributing wealth can also be applied to newspaper ads, radio and television. Do they not serve a place in the marketplace on the same basis as you argue against signs??
Perhaps it is the print media you wish to protect, as they could see an immediate decline in revenue as signs provide a far more cost effective means of advertising of products or service.
Invention and quality of products is only part of the mix, sale price and after sale service is also a part of that mix.
Signs are merely an advertising tool that tells people what you are offering, as does a newspaper ad.
There seems to be the notion that LED signs equal video signs, which they do not. For the most part they will display simple, easily grasped messages designed to draw traffic to a certain business.
As for the success or failure of either communism or capitalism, both are destined to failure as they are merely the constructs of mortal man.