Nailing Collingwood’s Door Shut to Business

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DohertyCouncillor Deb Doherty seems eager to cement this council’s already ugly but deserved reputation for being hostile to business. This week she made a motion to re-open the always-contentious sign bylaw, apparently in order to impose draconian restrictions on business signs

THAT Council direct Staff to review Sign By-law 2012-110 with respect to sign height and any other revisions or amendments as deemed appropriate by the Chief Building Official; AND FURTHER THAT the report be presented through the Development and Operations Standing Committee not later than August 31, 2015.

Sign bylaws are necessary, but always contentious to debate. Municipalities want to limit clutter. Business owners want the freedom to erect signs that attract customers, advertise their products and generate revenue. Our bylaw is already strict enough: over the years it has proven a fair balance between control and liberty. Why fix what isn’t broken?

But apparently Ms. Doherty wants to tighten the screws on businesses. And I suspect most of council – the rest of the Block Five who vote as a clump, for sure – will follow her lead.

Council watchers will recall that, a couple of terms back, Ms. Doherty was the executive director of the minuscule, misanthropic, and highly confrontational, ratepayers’ group VOTE (aka Voters Opposed To Everything). Through that group’s efforts, supported by the former mayor, they managed to halt construction on the grand Admiral Collingwood development that was to be the residential and commercial centrepiece of the downtown. The result you can see at the corner of Hume and Hurontario today.

This is VOTE’s legacy: an empty lot that represents the culmination of all their small-minded efforts. Ms. Doherty and her colleagues must be proud of it. This is their vision for Collingwood.

One of that group’s more vocal members was vehemently opposed to signs, at least those of other businesses (he didn’t seem to mind his own). He became apoplectic in discussions about signage – especially over corporate or franchise signs. Everything seemed bigger than what he personally felt acceptable. This preferred height seemed to be between two and six inches tall. And it had to be in his chosen palette (beige and grey, as I recall) and selected font. Any variation released a spume of vitriol about the town going to ‘rack and ruin’.

It appears he still sets the agenda for at least one person at the table.

This new motion, as local political aficionados know, is just VOTE redux: nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to attack the developer of the new building in which the Rexall drugstore now resides. Who was the same, local developer who wanted to build the beautiful Admiral Collingwood site. Coincidence? Hardly. One of VOTE’s basic ideologies was its deep-seated hatred of this developer. That malign influence continues at the table today.

Ms. Doherty expressed distress over the size and colour of the Rexall sign during an earlier council meeting. The sign, you may recall from staff’s response, is perfectly legal: it was approved by staff in accordance with existing sign bylaws. It isn’t in the heritage district, so it doesn’t have to use the limited, rather stuffy palette or size restrictions downtown buildings in the district are limited to. Her complaints had no basis other than personal dislike. But she will use her position at the table to bludgeon us with her ill-considered opinions.

Ms. Doherty may be hoping she can force a change in the bylaw to suit her political masters, and maybe she even expects to get the sign itself replaced with something acceptable to the anti-business crew.

Ms. Doherty may not be aware that once a sign is legally approved and erected, it cannot be removed or altered by the town. Like so many on this council, she doesn’t always seem to be aware of the basics of municipal governance, so this vain (in both senses of the word) attempt comes as no surprise. No matter how she whines about it – and no doubt she will do more – the sign is here to stay.

Once again, Collingwood Council has proven itself hostile to business, growth and development, and Councillor Doherty is the flag bearer.

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