Sometimes St. Albert city council ignores recommendations from its administration, at its peril. One example of this is the city’s long-running digital sign issue. Later this month city council is expected to approve new digital sign rules that will allow electronic digital display signs with third party advertising along St. Albert Trail.
The new rules will open up the playing field for businesses that want to use digital signs to promote themselves or third-party businesses. Right now the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce is the only entity that has been allowed digital display signs on St. Albert Trail. This has been a bone of contention for businesses and the sign industry that wants equal digital time.
Part of the problem was the fact that city council did not deal proactively with the sign issue when the chamber of commerce requested a digital sign back in 2009 and 2010. Instead of modifying its bylaws to address any further requests for signs, city council allowed the chamber of commerce to get in through a back door, essentially making a one-off deal. City council allowed the chamber to put up two large digital signs on St. Albert Trail at Villeneuve Road and Hebert Road.
At the time, city administration recommended against the move, saying it would create an unfair business advantage for the chamber and set a bad precedent. Lo and behold that was the very situation the city found itself in several years later when other businesses came calling for digital signs, and the city had no policy to deal with their requests. It remained irksome to businesses that they could not get the same deal as the chamber.
Finally in the fall of 2015 city council agreed to open up the use of digital signs and administration began crafting the required amendments. But the businesses, shut out for so long, were not happy with the city’s efforts. They said the rules as proposed were too restrictive.
City council has now approved amendments, several of which – again – go against recommendations of city administration. The city transportation branch recommended the city adhere to Transportation Association of Canada guidelines that say for driving safety signs should be 500 metres apart, 100 metres from an intersection and allowed for digital messages that could change a minimum of every eight seconds.
However, city council in its wisdom has now given second reading to a bylaw that requires only 300 metres between signs, allows signs 30.5 metres from an intersection and allows messages that can change every six seconds. The bylaw returns to council April 24 for third reading. Mayor Nolan Crouse voted against the amendments saying city council should defer to the experts on matters of safety. On that point he is right.
City council should have deferred to its administration when it first advised on the sign issue in 2009. City council should now be listening to the experts on a matter as important as driver safety. When will this council stop micromanaging issues that are beyond its scope?