Nov. 5, 2017
By Arianne Robinson
When you first look at the Etobicoke apartment sign at 9 Crown Place on Google Maps, it’s hard to know exactly why this sign, which looks pretty inoffensive, became the subject of a debate in a court-like drama at the bimonthly Sign Variance Committee meeting last week at city hall. The sign is the shape of a typical apartment sign, but with a large, bright star and triangle on the outside. A closer look shows the name and logo of the sign’s owner, Starlight Investments.
City of Toronto staff want all those elements to be removed and have imposed conditions for what they will allow instead, based on their interpretation of the sign bylaws. Signs can increase the value of the property where they exist, not to mention their visual effect on the area where the signs exist. In cases where the sign owner doesn’t like the decision made by the sign bylaw unit, there is a committee at city hall where they can appeal their case.
This past Tuesday, the Sign Variance Committee supported staff’s decision to change the existing sign, but not before a cross-examination from counsel for Starlight Investments involving a string of email communications from months before the city’s decision that showed city staff had told Starlight Investments that parts of the sign were acceptable. “When we look at these emails where you’ve said the star and the swoosh, originally they were fine,” lawyer Patrick Harrington said, “now it’s just the star, but as we see here in your report, you’ve now taken the star off, and I don’t see an explanation in this email and I don’t see an explanation in the staff report. So is there an explanation for why staff has changed its mind about why the star is not generic and supportable?”
Cindy Long, sign building code examiner inspector, responded, saying the emails were based on “just an overview” and the sign should just identify the building. “Every application is reviewed based on its own merits and based on its context,” Long said.
Ted Van Vliet, manager of the Sign Bylaw Unit, wrote via email that they look to the neighbourhood to make the decision for what is and is not allowed on signs erected in the City of Toronto, especially if the sign is in a residential area. “With respect to [interpreting the sign bylaw], it’s difficult to say exactly what we would look at as it is variable depending on where you are in the city,” Van Vliet wrote. “Some areas of the city have a concentration of a certain type of sign… [or] a concentration of a certain building/architecture type… [or] a certain land use.”
However, Harrington argued the bylaw doesn’t specify if corporate logos and symbols are permissible in identifying an apartment building because logos are used on signs in certain areas of the city. “Your position is that it shouldn’t be used in the residential apartment district?” Harrington asked.
“Correct, because of the sensitive nature of the sign district,” said Robert Bader, supervisor of tax, variance and permits at the Sign Bylaw Unit for the City of Toronto.
Harrington also began to argue that the property standards bylaw states the building owner’s contact information should be prominently displayed on its sign, but was interrupted by one committee member’s interjection with a concern.
“Mr. Chair, point of order here, please. I think we’re discussing something totally outside of what the sign bylaw is here, and I’m not comfortable with the way the questioning is going because it’s very different than anything I’ve seen appear before us,” the Sign Variance Committee member Brian Huskins said. “This is not just asking questions for clarification, this is a drilldown cross-examination, which isn’t the purpose, I don’t think, of this particular process. I could be wrong, but I’m now not involved in this process I’m observing a TV show in front of me and I’m not comfortable with that. I just need some clarification in terms of –”
The city’s lawyer advised that the questioning was allowed under the procedural rules.
In the end, the committee sided with staff. What it will mean for the other Starlight Investments signs in the city is not known. In his presentation to the committee, Harrington said Starlight Investments has filed approximately 40-50 applications for these signs. Starlight Investments lists approximately 100 buildings on their website, as previously reported.
Signal Toronto contacted legal counsel for Starlight Investments the day of the decision for comment on the item who directed us to spokesperson Danny Roth for comment. He wrote “we’ve just received the decision today, and are currently reviewing it, we will not be able to provide further comment at this time.”
A letter from the local councillor Justin Di Ciano to the Sign Variance Committee did not know of any homeowners or tenants who complained about the sign. “To the best of my knowledge, my office has not received any objections or complaints from residents concerning Starlight’s sign or the variances now being requested.”
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