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Local farmers cry foul as RDOS plans crackdown against ‘illegal’ signs
Rural business owners in Osoyoos and Oliver fear the regional district’s crackdown on signage will threaten their livelihoods.
Officials got an earful last week during a public forum in Oliver, where numerous fruit growers spoke out.
“These signs make our businesses work. Without them my business would be zero,” said James Moore, who runs a bed and breakfast and U-pick operation.
The regional district is working with the Ministry of Transportation to address the “proliferation” of signs along Highway 97 between Oliver and Osoyoos.
They are doing this by sending letters to individuals advising them to remove their unauthorized signs.
Private signs are not permitted within the highway right-of-way and the regional district prohibits people from erecting signs that advertise someone else’s business.
These are called third-party signs.
Signs on private property can only advertise goods affiliated with that property.
The regulations only allow one private sign per parcel, and it can’t exceed a maximum height of three metres (10 feet).
Donna Butler, the regional district’s manager of development services, said the main concern with all of these signs is visual clutter and road safety.
The Ministry of Transportation states that too many signs along the highway cause driver distraction.
According to Jeff Wiseman, the ministry’s operations manager for the region, the Oliver/Osoyoos area has the highest proliferation of signs in B.C.
Butler noted that a large number of unauthorized signs are located within the highway right-of-way. She reported that staff counted 243 signs from Road 1 south of Oliver to the US border in Osoyoos. She noted 80 per cent of these signs are unauthorized.
Osoyoos business owner Clint Hawes was shocked to learn the sign crackdown was reportedly caused by fewer than 25 complaints from the public.
Hawes argued he has a right to know who has been complaining about the proliferation of signs. But he was told that this information is confidential.
Hawes also wanted to know why the ministry and regional district are suddenly embarking on an enforcement blitz. Why wasn’t this done before?
Wiseman said they did remove signs in 1988, but over time the issue became a low priority for the ministry and the signs multiplied again “like rabbits.”
The third-party rule is creating a lot of opposition from business owners who argue they need these signs to survive financially.
Greg Thorp from Riverside Garden Centre in Oliver said he relies on highway signage to stay in business.
“I need third-party signs. Tell me, who will I let go because jobs will be at stake?”
Thorp commented it is becoming a liability to own farmland these days because of increasing regulations.
Paul Gill, owner of Paul’s Greenhouses in Osoyoos, said the regulations will hurt his business if he can’t advertise on the highway. Gill pointed out he won’t remove his signs until the regional district settles the issue at the board level.
Osoyoos orchardist Ranbir Kambo wanted to know how the regional district defines “distraction” as it relates to signs on the highway.
He also noted that not one person at the meeting supported the sign enforcement measure.
Randy Toor of Desert Hills Estate Winery said they have a small window of opportunity to cash in on business, so they need to attract people from the highway, and they need signs to do that.
Pinder Dhaliwal, vice-president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, agreed, saying they only have a short season (six months) to maximize business potential.
Dhaliwal wasn’t convinced that driver distraction is an issue, noting more accidents occur at Deadman’s Lake and Vaseux Lake bluffs.
Oliver orchardist D. Cachola said the government has no right to remove signs from his property.
“If you want road safety, look at Vaseux Lake. That’s where you need something done, where people keep dying (in traffic accidents).”
Cachola said the government should be doing something about Jim Pattison’s billboards. “You guys don’t bother him.”
Hawes suggested giving out permits for temporary signage during the selling season. In any event, the sign regulations need to be changed, he pointed out.
The manager of Riverside Garden Centre said if they don’t have signs, she will be out of a job.
Moore said not one of his bed and breakfast guests have every complained about sign clutter on Highway 97 in more than 13 years.
“They take home $2,000 to $3,000 in wines. That’s what signs are all about – business.”
Thorp urged the regional district to scrap the existing bylaw and establish a new one to accommodate local businesses.
Jay Anast from Joe’s Plumbing and heating said it appeared the regional district was discriminating by only enforcing the bylaw in one area along Highway 97.
Area C director Allan Patton said they are doing one area at a time, noting the regional district will focus its efforts north of Oliver after finishing with Osoyoos.
Heide Held from Hillside Orchards asked why the regional district is only targeting Highway 97 and not signs on Black Sage Road.
“That’s completely racist,” she said.
Fred Steele, president of the fruit growers’ association, said they would send a submission to the regional district asking for a public hearing on the matter.
Wiseman and regional district officials informed the audience they would not take any enforcement action until the regional board makes a decision.
Patton said it is possible the board will amend the regulations and/or create a new bylaw.
Area A director Mark Pendergraft said it appears that changes are needed. He noted that enforcement letters have just gone out to rural Osoyoos residents.
“I’m sure my phone will start ringing,” he said.
After hearing numerous concerns about the current bylaw, Patton indicated that he and Pendergraft will recommend that a public hearing be held.
Special to the Times