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Updates to sign bylaws are 'hurting businesses' in Petawawa, says shop owner

Kevin Holm, owner of Safeguard Electric, is choosing to keep up the portable sign in front of his business despite getting fined by the town of Petawawa, Ont. (Submitted by Kevin Holm - image credit)
Kevin Holm, owner of Safeguard Electric, is choosing to keep up the portable sign in front of his business despite getting fined by the town of Petawawa, Ont. (Submitted by Kevin Holm - image credit)

The recent enforcement of a sign bylaw in Petawawa, Ont., is facing backlash by some business owners, including one who is refusing to take down his sign despite the risk of racking up thousands in fines.

For the past five years, Kevin Holm, owner of Safeguard Electric, has relied on a portable sign with removable letters to advertise different services his business offers.

"Over 20,000 vehicles pass by my shop and Petawawa Boulevard every day. This is the biggest army base in Canada. These signs are critical, especially to this town," he told CBC Radio's Ontario Morning.

A few weeks ago, a bylaw officer stopped by his electrical shop to levy a $300 fine for not complying with the town's bylaws.

According to Petawawa's municipal bylaws, a portable sign like this can only be installed with a permit granted for 30 days. Business owners can apply for a maximum of four permits a year.
According to Petawawa's municipal bylaws, a portable sign like this can only be installed with a permit granted for 30 days. Business owners can apply for a maximum of four permits a year.

According to Petawawa's municipal bylaws, a portable sign like this can only be installed with a permit granted for 30 days. Business owners can apply for a maximum of four permits a year. (Submitted by Kevin Holm )

According to Petawawa bylaws, a portable sign requires a permit that will allow the sign to be up for 30 days. A business can only apply for four permits a year.

Holm has kept his sign up, despite a section of the bylaw that states "each day of violation of any provision of this by-law shall constitute a separate offence." By those rules, Holm said he'd have to pay over $4,000. But so far, he's only been fined once.

"This is hurting businesses. The reason why these signs are all over the world is because they work," he said.

Holm said he'd have no issue applying for a permit, but his sign would still only be able to go up four months out of a year.

Sign rules aren't new, mayor says

Petawawa Mayor Gary Serviss said the sign bylaw isn't new and dates back to 2012. But there's been two changes over the past year: enforcement and fines.

For several years, there was only one bylaw officer for the entire town.

"It was sometimes difficult to keep up with a lot of the various issues that were going on in the town and a lot of the bylaws were not enforced to the level that they should have been," he said.

The town has since contracted The Canadian Corps of Commissionaires to expand its bylaw enforcement crew, Serviss added.

Petawawa Mayor Gary Serviss says businesses were informed of the updated by-laws soon after they were passed.
Petawawa Mayor Gary Serviss says businesses were informed of the updated by-laws soon after they were passed.

Petawawa Mayor Gary Serviss says businesses were informed of the updated bylaws soon after they were passed. (Submitted by Gary Serviss)

In April of 2023, an update to the sign bylaw was passed after public consultations, Serviss said. That included a fine system to ensure the enforcement policy had "a little bit of teeth" behind it.

"Most of the feedback we got was from businesses and the public that said it wasn't very attractive for the town to have so many of these portable signs lining the streets," Serviss said.

There were also concerns about safety, with some people saying it was difficult to see past the signs when trying to turn off side streets onto the main boulevard.

Town informed businesses

After the bylaw was passed, businesses were informed about the provisions and permit requirements. Serviss said informal notices were sent to businesses who did not obtain permits or remove the signs.

Six months later, the town issued formal notices to the 32 businesses not complying with the bylaw.

Almost all of them have since taken steps to remedy that, with the exception of two businesses, Serviss said.

Serviss said he encourages business owners to look into the town's Community Improvement Grant Program, which can provide a grant to fund half the cost of a permanent sign to a maximum of $5,000.

"We value our small businesses very highly in the town of Petawawa," Serviss said, adding he's open to a discussion with anyone who still has questions.

Holm said while it's nice the town is providing the grant program, it still doesn't solve the issue of portable signs like his, which are designed to be changed frequently to convey creative messages.

"You can't work a permanent sign … they're two completely different things."