Survey Says: CBRM Residents Want Sign Regulation

The people of the CBRM have spoken and they want the municipality to regulate temporary mobile signs. Planner Kristen Knudskov appeared before council last night with the results of a public survey that found 76% of respondents wanted the CBRM to regulate signs like these:

Shoutout Signs

CBRM’s planning department began work on a sign by-law back in 2019, forming what Planning Director Michael Ruus called “a working group of internal and external stakeholders” that was preparing to hold public sessions on the matter when the pandemic hit. Ruus told council back in November that, with COVID restrictions easing, the group had reconvened and was ready to restart the public consultations.

The Working Group, as I reported when it was reconvened, looks like this:

  • Michelle Wilson (Downtown Development Association)
  • Kathleen Yurchesyn (CB Regional Chamber of Commerce)
  • Craig Boudreau (CB Regional Chamber of Commerce and owner of Magnet Signs)
  • Terry Smith (Destination Cape Breton)
  • Nathan MacNeil (General Public?)
  • Kenneth O’Neill (CBRPS I presume)
  • Ray Boudreau (CBRM)
  • Mary Lynn MacPhee (CBRM)
  • Kristen Knudskov (CBRM Planning)

The group’s first task was this public consultation, which was accomplished by means of a survey conducted between December 8 and 17. Here’s the full report Knudskov presented to council.




Knudskov explained that 910 people had responded, a number both District 8 Councilor James Edwards and Mayor Amanda McDougall lauded as a great response, “excellent” in Edward’s estimation. The vast majority of respondents had never used a temporary sign either as a source of product information or as a way of selling a product or service.

Knudskov’s report noted that “preliminary discussions” with the Working Group had “predicted that comments from CBRM citizens would fall into a few key categories” and — what do you know? — they did. But given the categories were public safety, appearance, business impact and the role of the CBRM in regulating signs, I’m not ready to credit the Working Group with psychic powers just yet. (What other categories were likely to arise? Heritage value?)

I think it’s safe to say the vast majority of respondents do not like temporary mobile signs — 60% strongly agreed the location of some such signs can be a safety hazard.

Just over 60% strongly agree the appearance of such signs reduces “the aesthetic or visual quality of the community.” The words “eyesore” and “unsightly” appeared frequently in the written submissions.

Only 25% of respondents “strongly agreed” that temporary signs were an effective way for businesses or individuals to communicate messages.

And, as mentioned at the top, 76% of respondents believe the CBRM should regulate such signs.



The survey went into the weeds a bit on the specific provisions a municipal sign by-law might include and respondents were less unanimous in answering these questions.

The report says the greatest consensus was over the number of signs that can be placed on a commercial property — 80% of respondents said there should be a limit — while 50% or more would allow off-site advertising, signs along tourists routes and signs on vacant lots.

Discussion on the report, which was for information only and required no motion of council, was brief but there were a couple of interesting points.

First, the classic CBRM suggestion — this time from District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger — that rather than having one sign by-law for the entire municipality, we have different sign by-laws for different parts of the municipality.

Still from CBRM council meeting, 2022.02.08

Bruckschwaiger based this on the fact that the majority of survey responses came from Sydney, which he interpreted to mean people elsewhere in CBRM are not fussed about temporary mobile signs.

District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie, however, suggested that it’s simply that there are more signs in Sydney, adding, “I think the information that the public supplied was very clear.”

Knudskov and Director of Planning and Development Michael Ruus both indicated that drafting different by-laws for different communities would have cost and enforcement implications.

The suggestion was made that lot size should be taken into consideration in determining how many signs are permitted on any one site but it actually already was — respondents were asked if signs should be placed a certain distance from each other on the same property, meaning, the bigger the property, the more signs you could situate with proper distancing. Respondents were completely divided on this, though, with 47% saying there should only be one sign per property, 36% saying there should be separation between signs and 10% saying there should be no separation between signs.

Bruckschwaiger used his next turn at the mic to say that he’d relied on his own such sign when he ran a business, to note that the business community is “going through some pretty hard times” and to make it very clear that council was not “out tonight at any point to make any changes to take signs away from business” and that “further consultation is going to happen before we make any changes, if we make any changes.” (Which sounds to me like, “I know the public really wants to regulate your signs, but don’t worry, we won’t listen to them.”)

District 7 Councilor Steve Parsons asked about regulations on provincial highways and Knudskov and Ruus both said that “ministerial permission” would be needed to enforce any municipal by-law on provincial highway right-of-ways.

The next step, according to the planning department is to:

…collaborate with the stakeholder group to create a draft Bylaw guided by the survey feedback. A plan for the implementation, enforcement, associated costs, and evaluation of the Bylaw will also be addressed.

Knudskov said staff would also bring back “alternatives” to a sign by-law, although she didn’t give any hint as to what these might be.

Asked about timelines for the process, Knudskov said there was “no set timeline” but that they would try to proceed as efficiently as possible with the Working Group.

But sadly, they will not work as publicly as possible.

In his opening remarks, Gillespie thanked the planners and the working group and the sign owners, noting there are “two things you never want to see made, municipal policy and sausages” because both involve “so much hard work.”

Of course, the reason people say you don’t want to see how the sausage is made is not that the process requires such hard work, it’s that, as, one Bangor Daily News reporter put it, “some of the most delicious, beautiful or beneficial things are made from unsavory components and can be a nasty mess to produce.”

But when it comes to municipal by-laws, I’m actually here for the nasty mess — I think the Working Group should have to meet in public and I think the survey data should be published in its entirety.

And I shall continue to dream.