The digital sign debate at Invermere council, which has run through the winter and spring, is on pause at least until early next year, with council members unanimously deciding at their most recent meeting to put a temporary freeze on any other development variance permits involving animated or digital signs.
During the Tuesday, June 13th council meeting, councillor Paul Denchuk put forward a motion to put a hold on any development variance permits until the district has completed the downtown design guideline consultation process it plans to undertake this fall. Other council members were lukewarm about restricting development variance permits for downtown storefronts, for instance, but readily agreed to put a halt to those to do with digital signs.
“As I’ve said before, I kind of feel council has been putting the cart before the horse in terms of granting variance permits for digital signs before consulting the public,” Denchuk told the Echo, speaking the week after the meeting. “I wanted (with the motion) to get this in order before councillors gave any more digital signs the go-ahead, because in my mind, we (council) don’t have the mandate to go ahead.”
Digital signs have become a hot-button issue following a narrow vote (three in favour, two opposed) by council to approve A&W’s new digital sign in Athalmer this past winter, and debate this spring over allowing an electronic community messaging board (a project spearheaded by the Rotary Club of Invermere) at the intersection of Invermere’s main street (7th Avenue) and 9th Street, just outside AG Valley Foods. Council members eventually voted four to one (with Denchuk the lone dissenter) to allow the message board, but not before generating a stir by deciding unanimously at one council meeting to ask the Rotary Club to hold an open house on the sign, and then, at the following meeting reversing that decision.
“I was a bit surprised,” said Denchuck, of council unanimously agreed to a freeze on digital signs. “It’s clear council is a bit conflicted about electronic signs in our community. We all the saw the flip flop on the digital sign at AG. Obviously there’s some concern from some of the other councillors, but when certain people are there (sign proponents at the council meetings), they will then say the sign is okay and vote for it.”
During his consistent opposition to digital signs in Invermere, Denchuk has pointed out that such signs are not allowed for under existing district sign bylaws, and run counter to design guidelines in Invermere’s Official Community Plan (OCP), which outlines a “mountain town” feel for the community.
During discussion at the June 12th meeting council ultimately decided to split Denchuk’s motion into two separate motions — one to restrict electronic signs, which council voted unanimously in favour of, and other to restrict more general development variance permits covering storefront facades, which council voted against four to one (Denchuk being the lone councillor to vote in favour of these restrictions).
Invermere mayor Gerry Taft told the Echo that public consultation on downtown design guidelines will begin after public consultation on what do with the land on which the old community hall sits (the old community hall will be torn down in September) wraps up some time in the early fall.
“So the design guidelines consultation will start some time in October or November and likely run into the new year,” said Taft.
He added that he and other council members who voted against restricting development variance permits for storefront, did so in part because such a restriction would essentially disallow downtown business owners planning renovations this fall from doing so.
According to Taft, “two of the most recent changes in facades in downtown — on the old Book Bar building (which is currently Inspire Floral Boutique and Om Organics) and the Do Nothing juice bar and Flotation Centre — technically didn’t meet design guidelines, which call for earth tones, and the use of timber and rock material. But the owners went ahead with them, in part because council members seemed to feel that what they were planning looks better than what was there before.”
These kind of designs characteristic are something the public consultation will need to address, according to Taft.
“Are these bright, vibrant colours (on the old Book Bar and on Do Nothing) what we want to see in downtown? Is a rock component, or a timber component necessary in terms of material? Do we want a unified look or is a diverse look okay? These are the things we need to find out from the community,” he said. “In my personal opinion, the (Do Nothing) juice bar colour is not my favourite, but I was just happy to see some colour. It’s an improvement on what was there before. But we want input on that from the whole community.”
Information about the downtown design guideline public consultation process will be posted on the district’s website some time in the fall, when the consultation is close to beginning.