The city lawn sign saga may soon come to an end with a public hearing on Aug. 21.
Last July St. Albert resident Tara Seeger made headlines after the city ordered her to remove a sign from her front yard that supported a return to home postal delivery. The sign wasn’t allowed under the Land Use Bylaw and Seeger received letters from the city telling her to remove the sign.
Seeger’s story attracted media attention for what some said was a needless and arbitrary limiting of freedom of expression. Seeger, along with lawyer and former MP Brent Rathgeber, presented to council about the issue. Council voted to direct administration to suggest amendments to the land-use bylaw that would allow residents “to engage in political expression through lawn signs.”
On Monday, the city planning department presented amendments to the land-use bylaw that would allow residents to set up lawn signs with some restrictions. Lawn signs would be allowed for a period of 30 days. After 30 days the sign would have to be removed for a 30-day waiting period before another sign could be displayed. Only one sign could be displayed at a time for a maximum of 180 days per year.
This is over regulation. Who will enforce these rules? What difference does it make if the sign is on the lawn for 31 days? Who will keep track of how long a sign has been in a yard?
Currently, enforcement of lawn signs in St. Albert is complaint-driven, but our city that has taken a hard line stance on the issue, not allowing these types of signs, regardless of the opinion or message.
If one wishes to express a political opinion on a sign, whether it be support for the CBC or opposition to the carbon tax, it should be allowed as long as the message is not offensive and the sign is unobstructive. Do we really need to put a time restriction on inoffensive signs?
Other communities allow signs and don’t face an overabundance of them, so we shouldn’t expect that here. In the past 12 years the city has received just six complaints involving lawn signs. Given the low number of sign related complaints, it’s not likely to be a significant issue.
As Rathgeber noted in his presentation to council in September, limiting freedom of expression is worse than having the occasional front yard sign.
“As unpleasant as sign proliferation might be to some, we can all think of a greater harm – inability to protest one government’s action as a result of the actions of another government,” he said.
There is a simpler solution: allow one lawn sign per property, no time limits needed. It gives residents the freedom of expression that many other communities allow and it is straightforward for residents and bylaw officers.
If residents wish to express an opinion in their front yard, they should be able to do so. They aren’t hurting anyone. The sign issue should be a non-issue, as it is in most communities. This is much ado about nothing.