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Farmers step up challenge to sign law; considering petition to remove Patton
A group of local farmers continues to challenge the regional district’s sign regulations by turning to the Farm Practices Protection Act.
In addition, they are also considering a petition to remove Area C director Allan Patton for not representing local farmers in the matter.
Heide Held, from Hillside Orchards north of Osoyoos, responded to the regional district’s proposed amendments to the sign bylaw.
The general approach is to provide more signage options on farm properties, however, the board is not changing the rule on third-party signs, and plans to continue enforcing that component.
The rule states that property owners cannot erect a sign that advertises someone else’s business.
Held believes the regional district is missing the point and noted it is obvious that farmers need more than Agricultural Land Reserve protection to operate in a sustainable manner.
“I do not feel that RDOS and our Area C director realize that farms are businesses that contribute significantly to local and regional economic development, such as job creation, tax bases and quality of life,” she said.
Area C residents feel their collective voices are not being heard by their rural director, said Held.
“Allan Patton obviously has made it clear he refuses to listen and hear the Area C residents’ concerns.”
Concerns began when the regional district and the Ministry of Transportation prepared a sign enforcement strategy to address highway safety and the “proliferation” of signs on private property between Oliver and Osoyoos.
Letters were sent out to property owners encouraging them to comply with the regulations by removing their contravening signs.
Donna Butler, the regional district’s development services manager, said the purpose of signage control is to protect public health and safety, protect property values, preserve the natural beauty and reduce driver distraction.
But at a public meeting in March of this year, many landowners, including those in Osoyoos, spoke out against the enforcement strategy, saying the regulations threaten their livelihoods.
Last month the ministry advised that enforcement of highway signage (those in the right-of-way) was being postponed until this fall. This delay stems from the ministry’s concern about disrupting business for farmers this summer.
But Patton said the regional district is not deviating from its original enforcement plan pertaining to signs on private property.
The most contentious issue is third-party signs. Many businesses, such as Riverside Garden Centre, rely on third-party signage to be viable.
Riverside proprietor Greg Thorp said the business needs third-party signs on Highway 97 to survive. He stated removing these signs would lead to job layoffs due to the negative impact on business.
But Patton said that all signs that do not comply with the bylaw are “coming out.”
However, he said the Ministry of Transportation may have sign options available to address farmers’ concerns.
Under the regional district’s regulations, signs advertising the sale of agricultural products are limited to one per parcel and must not exceed a height of three metres.
However, Butler said it is proposed to amend the definition of “sign” to include sign structures.
For agricultural signage, it is proposed that fascia signs on front and side outdoor building walls be permitted.
People may have the choice of two smaller freestanding signs or one bigger sign.
Butler confirmed the third-party rule remains intact.
“There are no recommended changes to provide third-party signage at this time due to concern about further sign proliferation,” he said.
But she pointed out that a community-based approach to signage might be developed to provide other opportunities to identify business areas.
Held said farms face many challenges that are unique in this regional economy, and one of the challenges at the moment is the sign bylaw.
“The economic impact of this sign bylaw extends well beyond the value of our market production . . . without our signage this will have a negative effect on the regional economy.”
Held noted that immediate enforcement of the sign bylaw was due to a total of nine complaints between Oliver and Osoyoos in the last 25 years.
“This whole bylaw is indirect racism against our fellow Indo Canadian farmers. There has been filed complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal regarding this issue.”
Jim Collins, executive director of the Farm Industry Review Board, said they normally review disturbance complaints (made against farmers).
Collins said he doesn’t think the sign bylaw concern would be a valid nuisance complaint that the review board would look at.
“The key point is signs are part of land use regulations. You still have to be in compliance.”
The regional district compared its sign bylaw to others in the Okanagan.
It learned that Osoyoos, Surrey and Chilliwack have similar rules – one sign up to three square metres in total area. The Central Okanagan allows more than one sign and Surrey provides larger signage for wineries.
Oliver, Summerland and Langley allow building signs plus one freestanding sign. These communities have separate rules for temporary or seasonal farm product signs that are smaller than the permanent signs allowed.
Except for Penticton, Surrey and Abbotsford, third-party signs are not permitted.
Butler said administration favours forming a steering committee to represent local groups and the public.
This committee will determine local sign needs, identify advertising objectives, review the guidelines and determine the costs.
Patton said a public hearing is planned to garner feedback on the proposed amendments.
Special to the Times