Cariboo theme sign bylaw a bone of contention

After complaints Williams Lake city council is considering making its new theme signage bylaw voluntary.

After being questioned by a business owner about the city’s new signage bylaw requiring signage fit within the “Cariboo Theme,” city council is considering amending that requirement to “voluntary” compliance with the general guidelines of the theme for businesses spending less than $30,000.

At its committee of the whole meeting Aug. 28, council and staff received and discussed a report from city planner Liliana Dragowska about the sign bylaw requirements and complaints about the bylaw received by Gustafson Chrysler Jeep.

In the city’s official community plan, the Cariboo theme is defined as encompassing the area’s ranching, forestry and mining history. The plan says the theme was reflected in downtown buildings as early as the 1930s, with the construction of the western style Delainey building on Oliver Street being an example.

“The past official community plan encouraged the use of natural materials such as wood, river rock, and stones that help to build that Cariboo character in our downtown core and in the community in general,” states an excerpt from the present OCP.

Some examples of architectural suggestions in the bylaw are the use of river stones or paving stones, different types of siding materials, logs for columns or accents, detailed grills and railings, wooden trellises or arbors, different types of lighting or artwork.

Things made with natural products that are found within the region’s resource economy, Dragowska said.

In her report she pointed to Wal Mart, Safeway, Dairy Queen and Best Western as recent successes in complying with the theme in ways that weren’t too cost prohibitive or required major changes.

“Within our OCP, the Cariboo theme is not prescriptive, it’s suggestive,” she added.

The city is not asking businesses to change elements of a sign, but rather elements within the sign facade.

“In the case of a freestanding sign, we’ve asked business owners to incorporate rocks in the base of the sign. We didn’t ask them to change the sign, or the branding of it, nothing like that,” Dragowska clarified.

Kerry Gustafson, owner of Gustafson’s Chrysler Jeep, told the Tribune he’s spending close to $1 million in renovations to the dealership in Williams Lake. Having to fit his signage into the “Cariboo Theme” is not practical, he said.

“When it comes to national brand signs there is no way for any business in Williams Lake to comply with the bylaw. When it appears all of a sudden at the end of a project like this, it’s really really difficult, and uses up a lot of time and energy to get it changed, which is what we had to try to do,” Gustafson explained, adding the new signage bylaw was passed in the spring of 2012, months after the renovation work began.

If Williams Lake wants national or brand companies to come to town, Gustafson advocated the theme requirement has to be removed completely, not only for work under $30,000.

“We don’t need to have everything in Williams Lake looking rustic. My feeling is if a company is spending a lot of money on a renovation or a new project, the city government should allow business to do what’s reasonable. I’m trying to do an image compliant building for my dealership, but it feels like the city is trying to tell me how to spend my money,” Gustafson said, adding the OCP is a large document and it is not easy for a business person to know what it contains.

“When you come up against this thing of logs, wood and rustic, you think ‘I don’t want that on my building.’ Why should I have to go fight with the city to spend my money because someone in the near present decided that’s the way Williams Lake should look?”

During the discussion at the meeting, Mayor Kerry Cook said the challenge for council is to determine whether Gustafson’s request is reasonable.

“We’re just starting the process of going through the branding process, which is also developing a theme. I’ve had people talk to me about that and how that fits in with our current OCP. We also said in our business strategy that we want to be open for business as well. The challenge we have as elected officials is finding what is reasonable,” Cook said.

Coun. Geoff Bourdon opposed amending the bylaw, saying it was recently amended and passed only a few months ago.

“I look at it differently. If we want to be business friendly then we have to look at promoting our city. Some of the most successful cities in the world for tourism are successful because they have a theme. If we don’t stick with some theme that we’ve identified then there will be nothing to set us apart from any other city,” Bourdon said, adding if the city doesn’t require businesses to comply to a theme then there’s no point in having one.

Coun. Sue Zacharias echoed Bourdon’s comments, adding the bylaw falls on the heels of the OCP process where the public expressed an interest in a unified design and facade program throughout the city.

“Our city is starting to look really nifty, and I agree we should stand behind our process. There will be some complaints, and if someone wants a pickup load of rocks I will gladly give them that if all that’s standing in the way. I don’t think it has to be rustic and I don’t think personally I’d want a lot of logs out front at my business place, but I’m sure I could find something, even if it was a small element,” Zacharias, who owns a concrete business in the city, added.

For small businesses the presentation of signs and buildings speak volumes about who the owners are, argued Coun. Danica Hughes.

“I really disagree. I am not about let’s conform to the norm. I like diversity and I want people to feel that they have freedom of choice. If they like the Cariboo theme and want to go that route, they can have that choice,” Hughes said. “It’s one more thing for a business to deal with and when they’re trying to get up and running, it’s a huge amount of stress.”


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