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Pair of complaints spark election sign restrictions

Posted December 10, 2013

Two complaints lodged during the 2010 municipal elections in New Tecumseth were cited by the mayor as justification to prohibit candidates from placing their signs on road allowances without the permission of the resident abutting the public access.

The restrictions are now embedded in the updated sign bylaw, and a move last night to have the prohibition removed from the policy by Ward 4 councillor Fran Sainsbury, failed to win any support from councillors.

Initially, the draft sign bylaw update included an outright prohibition on all road allowances - this would exclude the County roads and Victoria Street (provincial highway connecting link) -  but that was deemed to restrictive, and that measure was separated from the bylaw and dealt with as its own item.

An election sign shall not be:
  • illuminated;
  • on municipally-owned properties or buildings, including the following municipal properties or on the road allowances immediately adjacent to Municipal and Police office buildings or property, Public Works office and yards, Public Libraries, Recreation Centres, Arenas, Municipal Parks/Parkettes, and all fire halls
  • erected within the sight triangle of an intersection; or
  • erected on the Town's road allowances without the consent of the property owner of the lands immediately abutting.
"Road allowances do belong to all the taxpayers not just the person whose house goes up to the laneway," said Ms. Sainsbury. "In the rural area it's going to be hard to do that because we have helpers and they don't do the door knocking necessarily, and it's hard to know who's going to say yes to that or even how many signs one even needs to order if you wish to put up signs."

She also suggested that the restrictions were a disadvantage to non-incumbents who use signage to advertise their candidacy.

"Anybody else who's running who's not an incumbent, they're trying to get known, and they're trying to serve the residents of this town as well," she said, "and I think it only fair they have some coverage."

Mayor Mike MacEachern said the he didn't "think it eliminates people's coverage."

"It tries to respond to an issue in the last election where people were putting up signs close to people's properties where they didn't have the support of the person. It happened once in the rural area, from what I knew, and it had nothing to do with me, and once in the urban area, they were particularly concerned because the person took it upon themselves to put the sign in front of their home in the road allowance and they didn't have the consent or the support of the person that was abutting that property, and they could not remove it."

"And that's because they did not own the road allowance," replied Ms. Sainsbury. "The other thing too, I guess it does make it more difficult to have some visibility, and that's my concern."

Mr. MacEachern said it would force candidates "to take the time if you were going to put a sign in front of somebody's house to go and talk to them and say, 'could I put a sign in front of your house."

"But then you'd have to knock on every door in every ward, because everyone has a house fronting something, but the road that they're fronting, is municipal property, it does not belong to that homeowner. And we've always just utilized the part that isn't their land," countered Ms. Sainsbury.

Ward 1 councillor Bob Marrs said he not only favoured the consent provision, but suggested it should be in writing.

Ms. Sainsbury also expressed concern about the compounded problem in her Ward 4 which the majority of residents live in the condominium communities of Green Briar and Briar Hill, which already prohibit signs on those lawns, and now, road allowances in the rural areas are off limits without consent.

"And it is hard to put it on farms, because of having to go over the fence, and you also have to watch out for farm dogs, and guard dogs," she said. "It's more difficult actually for someone running for mayor and deputy mayor because you have to cover the whole town, and that's a lot of door knocking to get somebody to say yes you can put it on something that all the taxpayers own and the person whose house abuts it, really doesn't own the road allowance."

Ward 5 councillor Donna Jebb noted there are farm properties that are rented out. "Would you get permission from the tenant, or the owner?"

Mayor MacEachern said the new policy would be policed by complaints. The bylaw officer, upon concluding an investigation, would have the authority to confiscate the sign.

"We wouldn't be running around trying to identify whether signs had neighbours' permission."

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