Students set sights on signs

The sign has come down, in accordance with today’s noon deadline, but “The Lodge” residents are prepared to put up a fight.

Residents of 262 Earl St. were among six Ghetto houses told by the city two weeks ago that they must remove their outdoor signs because the signs violate a property standards bylaw.

“We’re going to take the sign down to comply, and then we’re going to appeal,” said Jon Taylor, Sci ’06 and resident of “The Lodge.”

“We are expecting to win.”

At last week’s AMS-run first annual student-city forum, Mayor Harvey Rosen was asked about the property standards bylaw.

“The bylaw is vague, and as far as I can understand, I can’t put ‘Trick or Treat’ on my house … because that’s a written slogan,” a student told the audience at the forum.

Rosen agreed with the enforcement, but said it’s a difficult line to walk.

“If you don’t enforce the bylaws, you get non-observance,” he said. He added that anyone unhappy with the policy could make a presentation to the City Planning and Development Services Committee to try and bring about change.

According to the notice of violation issued to Taylor’s house, the sign violated Section 4.17 on graffiti, and that failure to remove the sign by Nov. 1 would result in a $100 fine.

Steve Murphy, a city property standards officer, said residents can appeal their order to remedy the violation.

“[It’s] a $75 fee to go to the appeals committee. Then the committee can say ‘Yes [the sign] is OK to stay’ or ‘Yes we [will] uphold the order,’ ” he said. “Either way, if they don’t appeal it, or the order is upheld and the sign does not come down, then we have to get a summons.”

Murphy said he feels taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for court proceedings and any costs would be included in the fine towards the residents.

“We feel whatever money is put into it should be paid,” he said. “I would say depending on how much time and how many times we have to go back … it could be a $250 fine, it could be $750. We would probably never ask for more than $1,500.”

He said although the fine might range from $250 to $1,500, past cases show the fine is generally not less than $750.

Taylor said he thinks it’s a nuisance that residents are forced to consider paying to keep the sign on their house.

“Especially when ‘The Smiths’ out in West Kingston have a sign on [their] house,” he said. “I guess it is complaint-driven.” Murphy said a sign like “The Smiths” would be unlikely to constitute a violation.

“You actually can post your family name on the property,” he said. “I know in city west for sure, but I am not sure about the wording in downtown bylaw[s].”

He added the sign bylaw allows for certain signs on properties as long as they are within the bylaw standards.

Murphy said the process is generally complaint driven, but that the six violations issued were only discovered when the city was proactively looking for yard violations. Yard violations include furniture in the yard or excessive garbage on the property.

“Actually, the issues were yards and [the signage] just happened to be another violation they found at the same time,” he said. “We [then] added anything that was [visible] from the street.”

At the time of the Journal’s request, Murphy was unable to report the other five houses that had notifications for signs.

Taylor said his housemate created the wood-burned “The Lodge” sign, which had been mounted on the house’s exterior since late August.

He also said they would move the sign into their front window.

“I guess it will be more visible, because it will be at street level,” he said.

Taylor said he didn’t know which other houses in the Ghetto had also been asked to remove their signs. He added that he thinks student opinions surrounding his situation are similar. “Everyone says that we are being bullied by the city,” he said. “But at the same time, all those people say they wouldn’t necessarily appeal it if it might cost $5,000.”

Megan Heidt, Sci ’08 and resident of “The Cube” at 241 Brock St., said she hasn’t received a letter for her house’s sign.

“It’s the personality of the Ghetto,” she said. “Everyone has different names on their house.”

Heidt said she and her housemates would remove the sign if they received a letter.

Taylor said he plans on using a dictionary definition of graffiti to argue for the appeal.

“We are pretty much going to explain to them that graffiti, by definition, is a type of deliberately inscribed marking made by humans on surfaces. It can take the form of art, drawing or words. When done without a property owner’s consent, it constitutes illegal vandalism,” he said. “We are hoping that … the argument of graffiti is flawed because it is not against the owner’s permission [in this case].”

Murphy said the bylaw didn’t explicitly define graffiti.

“Graffiti isn’t defined in our bylaw so it is the dictionary definition of it under the Interpretations Act,” he said.

Murphy added that slogans were not allowed.

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