Flashing digital A&W sign continues to divide Invermere council

&W’s new flashing digital sign in Athalmer continues to be a topic of disagreement at Invermere council,

^

A&W’s new flashing digital sign in Athalmer continues to be a topic of disagreement at Invermere council, with councilmembers touching on the topic of policy during their most meeting,

The talk at the Tuesday, February 28th meeting centred around how much discretion council has to interpret Invermere’sOfficial Community Plan (OCP). The discussion was prompted by earlier criticism from Councillor Paul Denchuk (who wasabsent from the February 28th meeting) that his fellow councillors fail to follow district policy.

The criticism sprung from two recent council decisions, both of which were passed during the previous Tuesday, February14th council meeting, but both of which were opposed by Denchuk one of which allowed the local A&W to use its newdigital sign in Athalmer and another which changed zoning in the CastleRock subdivision, allowing what was originallyplanned as a roughly 60-lot development to be reconfigured into one with fewer than 40 lots.

Denchuk, speaking after the February 14th council meeting, had told The Echo that, in his view, both measures (the signand rezoned subivision) contravene the OCP, and in both cases council members ignored the OCP. He conceded that councilcan make variances, but added that if guidelines are not followed, and flashing digital signs are decided upon on a case-by-case basis, “it’s going to look like pretty hodge-podge down there (in Athalmer). Another developer is already interestedin putting up an animated sign down there. We’ve cracked open that door. It could end up looking like a Vegas strip downthere.”

He pointed out that several other aspects of the recent exterior upgrades at A&W also deviate from the OCP and he wascurious why council was only asked by staff to comment on the animated digital aspect of the sign.

“The OCP was newly minted about year and a half ago. It’s a continuing problem with this council, that we don’t followpolicy; policy that we worked hard on with our community,” Denchuk had said.

The council members present at the February 28th meeting briefly discussed the idea of how policy should be applied, howit is open to interpretation, and how it differs from legislation, which they said is more set in stone and must be followed.

After the meeting both Taft and Councillor Greg Anderson elaborated to The Echo on their viewpoints.

“Legislation is the law, is legally required to be followed. But policy is not law. Policy provides guidelines, but it can’tanticipate every situation. In the majority of cases that come up, it makes sense to apply policy, and the majority of the timethat’s what council does. But there will be one-offs that come up, that require council to look and ask, ‘What is commonsense here?’ said Anderson, adding that this what occurred when council approved the A&W sign (with Denchuk and Taftvoting against and the other three councillors voting for).

“Policy also doesn’t acknowledge how quickly times can change,” he add.

Anderson disagreed with Denchuk’s assertion that council doesn’t follow policy.

“From time to time, we vary from policy, and sometimes things fall outside policy or are not addressed by it, but most ofthe time we do follow it,” he said. “Policy, as I said, is a guideline, it’s a starting point. But one size doesn’t fit all. There’sblack, there’s white, and there’s sometimes grey.”

Anderson said he has not had one person complain to him about the sign, and added he wouldn’t be surprised to learn thatmost people haven’t even noticed it.

“The OCP contains guiding principles and is supposed to provide direction to council, but council can still opt not to followthe OCP. It’s up to council to interpret the OCP. Most of the principles outlined in it are vague, vague enough that oneperson can look at the OCP and argue that the OCP supports a given issue, while another person can look at the same OCPand argue that the OCP does not support that same issue,” Taft told The Echo, adding that even though he voted alongwith Denchuk against the digital sign, he takes exception to what he sees as Denchuk’s characterization of councildisrespecting the community by ignoring the OCP.

“Not everybody in Invermere is of one mind. During the OCP consultation process, there were varying views expressed. Tosay that everybody in Invermere participated in the process and everybody agreed on everything is not true,” he said.“Community participation levels in the OCP were generally not high. At some of the informal, barbecue-type events, we gotsome higher numbers, but the open house we held on the draft OCP attracted approximately 30 people who offered theircomments. It’s hard to tell if their views represent the majority.”

Taft went on to detail how this creates a conundrum for council.

“On the one hand, you can say democracy is run by those who care and bother to show up. But on the other hand it’s hardto say that these 30 people should now get to decide how Invermere is run and we shouldn’t take into account otheropinions. So you end up trying to balance these things,” he said.

Taft also took exception to Denchuk questioning staff why council was only asked about the digital sign and not the otherelements of A&W’s exterior upgrades.

“Typically development permits take care of form and style, and that’s something that is delegated to staff and is notusually a council decision. So to question staff on why it wasn’t brought up, that was really an attack on staff, which is quiteunfair since staff can’t argue back or defend themselves to council members in an open meeting,” he said. “That isconcerning. If a council member or member of public has an issue with staff on a development decision, it should be donein a respectful way with the person involved, not as an attack.”

Taft also said he disagrees with the idea that the current council doesn’t follow policy well.

“Part of the role of council is to interpret policy. The role of elected officials is to take one-offs and then look at theguidelines and figure what makes sense. The issues are always nuanced, there are always shades of grey, and no policy canimagine every scenario,” he said. “That’s why there are elected officials. If it was all black and white, you wouldn’t need acouncil. District staff would simply go ahead and apply policy and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

Taft said the OCP outlines a mountain chalet-style, timberframe type of appearance and a timer-and-earth toned palette,but “recently we’ve seen a lot of pushback on that. The old Book Bar (now Om Organics) and the (Do Nothing) juice bar, forinstance, really did not want to follow that theme. Design tastes do change. Maybe it’s time to have a conversation aboutthat and see what the public and business community want in terms of exterior materials and design colour.”

The A&W sign went up two months ago, but was not turned on until the owners received the go-ahead from council to doso.