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Big concern? Hwy. 400 ONroute billboard a 'great big ... spam board'

Company official says Barrie is the only municipality that has applied its sign-bylaw regulations to proposed digital billboards
The Barrie ONroute on Highway 400 northbound, right before the Essa Road turnoff.

City councillors won’t sign off just yet on a proposed oversized billboard along Highway 400 in Barrie.

They decided Wednesday night to delay a decision until the May 1 council meeting.

“This sign is twice as high and three times as large as what is currently permitted in the city,” said Coun. Clare Riepma.

Permit World applied for a permanent exemption to the city’s sign bylaw to place a billboard sign, with two digital display boards, on commercial property owned by the province, and occupied by an ONroute ‘travel plaza’ and gasoline station, at 201 Fairview Rd., in Barrie. 

The proposed sign would be 15.2 metres high and have an overall advertising area of 60.82 metres, so it would exceed the maximum height of 7.5 metres permitted by an additional 7.7 metres. The property is also not vacant or undeveloped, as is required by the bylaw for these types of signs. 

“We must remember that when people are driving into the centre of our city, they will be presented with a great big — I hate to use the term, but I’m gonna — Spam board, and I’m not very favourable to this,” said Coun. Amy Courser.

Only Coun. Bryn Hamilton spoke in favour of the exemption, noting the city’s bylaw was not designed with signs along Highway 400 in mind.

“What is the big concern here?” she said. “It would be nice if there was some sort of benefit for us (the city). But I think we have to think beyond our city. This is a provincial initiative. 

“I do understand it falls outside the normal boundaries of our current bylaw, but I’m not really seeing why we would be pushing back significantly, other than it doesn’t fit our bylaw, so we can’t make accommodation when perhaps an accommodation should be given," Hamilton added. 

This application was made as part of a provincial initiative between the applicant, ONroute, and Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to install poster panel signs with two digital display boards at all 23 ONroute locations in the province.

The circumstances of the Barrie request are unique, as 201 Fairview is within city jurisdiction, with the property being owned by MTO. The majority of ONroute locations are in rural locations, outside of urban centres.

The property at 201 Fairview is zoned commercial, which allows for the placement of a poster panel sign. The proposed billboard’s placement is within the Highway 400 corridor boundaries, where signs require the MTO’s approval.

There is an MTO order that allows the billboard, but it must also meet all requirements of the local municipality. 

Melanie Teed-Murch, CEO of ONroute, said this is part of a $20-million, decade-long pilot project at the 23 ONRoute locations.

“Digital billboards are nothing new,” she said. 

Permit World's Shawna Petzoid said while these properties are owned by the province, ONroute manages their operation, and the province and ONroute are partners in the development, construction and the financial details. 

“The ability of the province to use this network of billboard signs for the dissemination of urgent messages is a significant benefit,” Petzoid said. “These boards can be used to display urgent messages to the travelling public, such as severe weather, dangerous road conditions, emergency road closures and Amber Alerts.”

Mayor Alex Nuttall didn’t buy all of those arguments, however.

“The idea when there’s traffic jams on the 400, the sign could help divert traffic…” he said. “It takes forever to get around our city at that point. The idea that we would then have a sign that’s going to divert people through the city, I don’t think would be helpful to us.”

Nuttall also noted the deal allows for ONroute, an advertising partner and the province to all receive a financial benefit from it.

“The financial benefit to the province is a shared revenue stream during the time and duration of the project, so it’s a 10-year project contemplated and the pilot allows for the selling of space and advertising and part of that revenue goes back to the province,” Teed-Murch. said.

Petzoid said Barrie is the only municipality that has applied sign-bylaw regulations to the proposed billboards, and that all other Ontario municipalities have exempted them from sign regulations. She also said Barrie’s sign bylaw is not designed to deal with digital billboards facing the 400.

Deputy Mayor Robert Thomson’s deferral motion is designed to give Nuttall an opportunity to contact the province and find a solution, he said. 


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Bob Bruton

About the Author: Bob Bruton

Bob Bruton is a full-time BarrieToday reporter who covers politics and city hall.
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