Opposition is piling up against a plan to cut down on the number of roadside signs in the South Okanagan.
Many sign owners on a 10-kilometre stretch of Highway 97 south of Oliver have received letters informing them they are not in compliance with zoning bylaws or have incorrectly placed their advertising on Crown land and could have it torn down.
The cleanup campaign is a joint effort of the B.C. Transportation Ministry and the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, which approved the plan last year at the request of some directors who felt the proliferation of signs had become an eyesore and distraction to drivers.
Some sign owners disagree.
“Most of the people (feel) it basically restricts our freedoms as Canadians and just don’t understand how this can be happening,” said opponent Heide Held of Hillside Orchards.
She said her farm market’s main sign has been deemed too tall and requires a zoning variance, while her smaller signs used to advertise in-season produce exceed the number allowed.
“We’re probably 500 feet from the highway or longer. If I don’t put my temporary signage out with the cartoon peaches and stuff, people miss me,” Held said.
She organized a meeting this week at which she and other affected property owners selected three people to spearhead the opposition.
One of the leaders, Greg Thorp, said he hopes to meet with the RDOS to press the case for farmers.
“The No. 1 issue is that we want to be able to have multiple signs up for in-season produce,” said Thorp, who owns Riverside Garden Centre and has three signs that may need to come down.
He also disagrees with the assertion the signs create a hazard by distracting drivers.
“Over in Cawston and Keremeos they don’t have these bylaws in place and they’re able to have multiple signs in place and yet they seem to be able to navigate down the road without any accidents,” said Thorp.
RDOS board chairman Mark Pendergraft noted his organization has no say in the fate signs of signs on highway right-of-ways or First Nations land, but has heard peoples’ concerns and may re-examine its own rules for advertising on private property.
“I think what we’ll end up doing is probably having to take a close look at the sign bylaw and see if there’s any changes that can be made to accommodate folks, but that would be a decision the board would have to make when we get there,” he said.
“I don’t think the intent of this ever was to get rid of all signs,” Pendergaft added. “It’s just that if you don’t enforce what you’ve got, they get out of hand and that’s where we’re at right now.”
RDOS development services manager Donna Butler said a hard date has not yet been set for removal of offending signs by the region’s highway maintenance contractor, but “sometime in March is what we’re thinking.”
Letters are expected to go out soon to sign owners on a second portion of Highway 97 between the southern edge of the first project area and the Canada-U.S. border, said Butler.
She hopes the entire cleanup can be completed by the start of the coming summer tourism season, then expanded to other parts of the RDOS in the future.