St. Albert residents may soon be able to voice their political opinions through lawn signs.
On Monday night, council passed second reading of an amendment to the Land Use Bylaw for residents to display political or advocacy signs on their front lawns.
Councillor Cam MacKay introduced a motion during the meeting to amend the bylaw to remove the proposed 30-day limit to lawn signs.
Last year St. Albert resident Tara Seeger said the city’s lawn sign rules infringed on freedom of expression. Seeger was directed to remove a lawn sign supporting Canada Post and the restoration of door-to-door mail delivery.
“Political expression is considered more important than any other type of freedom of expression,” Seeger said during the public hearing on Monday night.
Seeger was the only resident who presented at the hearing.
After reviewing its sign rules the city had proposed allowing lawn signs to be placed in the front yard or residential property for a period of 30 days. After the 30 days, the owner would have to take down the sign for a minimum of 30 days. Once the period was over, the landowner would be able to put up another sign for a period of 30 days.
The proposal also stated that one sign can be displayed for a maximum of 180 days per year and these sign types would not require a development permit.
MacKay’s motion removes the limitation and allows for signs to be displayed year-round with no time limit.
Seeger presented at council and said that any restrictions for time limits on her lawn signs were a violation of her Charter rights. She noted that Edmonton doesn’t have these restrictions on lawn signs.
“They expect their residents to be reasonable and most residents are,” Seeger said during the public hearing.
MacKay’s motion passed with all councillors in favour except for Cathy Heron and Mayor Nolan Crouse.
Crouse said that he was specifically concerned that some individuals may become targets of negative attacks on the lawn signs. He said that within the past four years he was the target of two negative signs.
During the debate Heron said that she was torn but saw the 30-day time limit as a compromise to help balance those who want to express themselves on their lawns and those who don’t want to see lawn signs in the community.
During council’s debate, the group also discussed residents’ Charter rights. Councillor Wes Brodhead said that he expected the public would challenge the 30-day time limit and without a constitutional lawyer present to answer questions, he wasn’t sure if they were on the right side of the law.
MacKay said that along with Charter rights, he was concerned with the bureaucratic costs of policing the time limit to the signs.
As part of preparation for the bylaw change, the city conducted a survey to gauge citizen attitudes about lawn signs. About 22 per cent of those surveyed said that there are not enough signs on display, while 43 per cent said that there was just the right amount on display. Some 35 per cent said that there are already too many signs on display in the city.
Councillor Sheena Hughes made a motion to extend the timeline to remove lawn signs after an election. Right now candidates have 24 hours after an election to remove lawn signs. Hughes’ motion doubled that time and candidates would have 48 hours to remove their signs.
The amendment to the Land Use Bylaw is expected to return to city council in September for third reading.