SDG sign bylaw deferred to seek legal advice

South Dundas Waterfront Development LED Sign at 11141 County Road 2, east of Iroquois. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

CORNWALL – A letter from a South Dundas-based developer has prompted SDG County Council to defer revising its digital sign bylaw to July.

The letter, sent by lawyer Jacob Polowin with Gowling WLG on behalf of the South Dundas Waterfront Development Corporation and Patricia Thériault, advised of concerns with the county’s draft bylaw.

“We have reviewed the Draft Sign By-law and are concerned that it is both illegal and in bad faith,” Polowin said in the letter to the county. “Our clients urge Council not to adopt the New Sign By-law.”

At the June 21 SDG County Council meeting, staff recommended deferring the bylaw to a future meeting on the advice of legal council for future study. Several councillors around the table took exception to the legal letter.

“I love when we get a letter that someone is going to sue us,” said Councillor Jamie MacDonald (North Glengarry).

“We get these on a weekly basis at the municipality of people threatening us, that they’re going to sue us. And really we should give no credibility to that.”

MacDonald said that the county should be prudent and have legal counsel look at the letter.

“But in the end, for these people, I don’t think suing the taxpayers of SD&G is a prudent business plan,” he said. “If this type of signage is not appropriate for the area, we should move forward and get it done. We can’t be held hostage by people who keep telling us they are going to sue us. I get tired of this kind of tactic and it literally pisses me off.”

When asked by Councillor Frank Landry if the SDWDC was in compliance with the current digital sign bylaw and if there is any enforcement action being taken, Transportation and Planning Services Director Benjamin deHaan said that any sign operating should be under the current bylaw.

“For the circumstance of that business owner (SDWDC) which has provided to us – we disagree,” he said adding. “We have a fundamental difference of opinion on that.”

deHaan continued that the draft revisions were for all signs and not targeting one specific sign. It is to “make it ultra clear what the expectations are.”

Councillor Tony Fraser (North Dundas) agreed with MacDonald.

“We should not be governed by threat of being sued. We know what is right,” he said.

“I know [the revisions] are not strictly about this sign. But this sign is an example of what we don’t want in our communities, what we don’t want affecting our residents. Signs such as this have added a level of discomfort, and that discomfort has been well expressed across SDG.”

Fraser said he wanted to move forward with the draft bylaw as it is and later offered a change suggesting that in the winter months, digital signs should be off earlier than 10 p.m. as proposed in the draft bylaw.

“In the winter time, it gets dark very early, and I think maybe 10 p.m. is too generous,” Fraser suggested. “It should be quite a bit earlier following regular business hours or a prescribed time much earlier than 10 p.m. so that these signs are not a disturbance to others.”

Fraser offered 5 p.m. as an alternate time for a digital sign to be turned off in winter months.

“Threats are just an ill-conceived offence and I don’t want to delay this (bylaw) too long,” Councillor Allan Armstrong (North Dundas) told council. “This is for every sign and I think [the revisions] are fair. The restrictions put in there are perfectly acceptable, to our side in North Dundas at least.”

Addressing the SDWDC sign specifically, Armstrong called the sign “horrendous”.

“They (SDWDC) are not complying with our restrictions, and I don’t know if it is a ‘fundamental disagreement’. I suppose on one level it is. But it is also a flaunting disregard for a law that is in place so we should perhaps be pursuing that in a very aggressive manor as well, while we deal with something that is fair for all the signs that exist and will exist in the future.”

Councillor Steven Byvelds (South Dundas) said he did not disagree with the comments from other members of county council but cautioned that legal discussions should be held in-camera.

“My preference in this is not to take advice in open council,” he explained.

“We’re not trying to hide anything from it but it gives a proper discussion and proper information to those on council without our legal advisers having to guard their words because of a court challenge.”

Byvelds warned that if the SDWDC does take the county to court, the video from the June 21 meeting or any other public meeting could be used as evidence.

“I’d rather have a fair fight than an unfair fight,” he said adding that he supports the current draft bylaw revisions as proposed.

“I know that the residents in that area need to be supported. I support them 100 per cent. I just want to make sure we’re doing it right with the information that we need to do it right with.”

Council agreed with staff to defer the sign bylaw to the next meeting.

This is not the first issue between the SDWDC, SDG and South Dundas about the digital sign issue.

In 2020, the SDWDC was issued a permit by SDG to install a digital LED sign in front of a residential property at 11141 County Road 2, east of Iroquois.

That sign raised concerns between the Municipality of South Dundas and SDG Counties on how sign permits are issued, which prompted a revised bylaw in late 2020.

That bylaw governs the operation of LED signs in the county. At the same time, more communication and cooperation was codified for the county dealing with lower-tiered municipalities in handling sign permit applications.

Since the sign was installed, several complaints by residents have been made about the intensity of the sign at night. Residents who have talked to The Leader have asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisals.

The SDWDC applied to rezone the property this spring to Commercial to allow the home built on the property to function as a sales centre for the company. South Dundas council denied that rezoning request. SDWDC has appealed that decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

In Summer 2020, Morewood-based Guildcrest Homes disassociated its company from the SDWDC saying it was not involved with the company. A similar statement was made by The Holmes Group, which operates the Holmes Approved Homes program by HGTV personality Mike Holmes. The SDWDC sign continues to advertise these companies on its sign.

The Leader has made multiple attempts to contact the SDWDC for comment, none of which have been returned by that company’s representatives.

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