My community is considering creating a community standards bylaw. It has me thinking about all of the issues that I think need to be addressed from my point of view as the broker of a real estate office.
Real estate offices and town halls have a lot of issues in common. We both want to see the community grow and improve each year to create an amazing place for the residents to live, which will hopefully attract new residents to the community. Here are a collection of my thoughts of things that are often missed in today's bylaws.
Reword the sign bylaws
Sign bylaws are fine, as in most cases they make sure that signage is consistent, conforming, and not overpowering. The things that the sign bylaws seem to miss are:
1. Signs have an average life of 5-7 years. The permit should be for the same time period.
2. You should have to put up a small deposit. When a business closes down the signage often stays up, gets flipped upside down, or gets removed leaving an unpainted scar on the front of the building. If the property is in foreclosure, or if it is owned by an absentee landlord, chances are the signage will stay that way until the property is leased or sold. The deposit will allow the municipality to hire a contractor to properly fix the sign should the owner/tenant not.
3. Temporary signage should not need a permit. There should be specific rules that allow business owners to hold a special event and place signage for up to 5 days prior to the event without a permit (something that can occur perhaps once every 6 months). Some businesses get away with this signage, while others get a warning from the municipality. It is better to create a rule allowing everyone the chance to follow.
4. Sign lighting. Most commercial signs have either backlighting behind a lexan panel, or front lighting shining down on plywood or Crezone signage. Signage looks sloppy if half of the lights are burnt out. The sign bylaw should be able to give the municipality the right to request the owner to either replace the burnt out lights or disconnect the power to the sign all together.
Work on the weed bylaws and be proactive with them
1. Weeds grow quickly. I see both sides of this argument. Landowners don't want notices or fines, and complain that they don't have enough time to respond to the weed notices. On the other side, the municipality will see 4 inch weeds, and give a notice. By the time the expiry of the Grace Period, the weeds are now 11 inches high. Meanwhile the citizens and neighbours have to pass by a weed ridden property.
2. Weed remedy is poor. There are essentially two ways to deal with weeds… kill them or cut them. You can burn them with a tiger torch, douse them with Roundup, chop them with a weed whipper, pull them by hand, etc. Either way, it takes a while for the remains to disappear. The smaller the weed, the easier it is to disguise. The most productive thing a municipality can do is to work with the landlord early in the spring to agree on a summer long solution to weed abatement.
3. The municipality can help. They can assist by gathering a list of local yard maintenance contractors to distribute to landowners, and place on their website. Landlords who live out of town won't often know who to call, as local seasonal handymen aren't able to organize their marketing like other businesses can. The municipality can also keep a photo file from year to year, and spend more time with the habitual offenders. If the landowner is presented with photos in the spring, they will likely be more proactive that year. Weeds seem to just sneak up about 4 days after a big summer rain. If we're ready, they won't have time to grow to a noticeable size.
Work with Communities in Bloom type organizations to create long term solutions
I've found that municipal employees have rules to enforce to manage some nuisances (noise, weeds, etc.) but their scope of authority doesn't cover all issues. There are many ugly properties that technically conform to the municipality's rules.
If the community collaboratively works with the community groups in the area, they can achieve their goals much quicker. If I, as a landowner, receive a weed notice in the mail, I'm annoyed. If I, as a landowner, hear a comment from a respected person in the community, I'm now somewhat embarrassed, and motivated to remedy the issue right away and create permanent solutions.
It is also difficult for a civil servant to suggest you may want to consider repainting your property, or that you could really spruce things up by using a little landscape fabric under your rocks, etc. Most property owners would take offence to that, but if the Communities in Bloom expert made the suggestion as an overall enhancement for the whole town, the property owner may be motivated to do their part.
I don't think that neighbours understand this bylaw properly. Many bylaw officers work during the day, whereas many of the parties, dog barking, or bothersome construction noises happen at night. I think that some signage throughout the community or regular notices in the newspaper might come in handy. Residents need to be familiar with the bylaw, and also with the phone numbers to call to report an infraction (ie. Bylaw during the day, Police at night).
Over the years, I've seen many new developments created. The sites look shabby during construction, they start to tidy up after the structure is complete, and then they begin to look shabby again after a few years.
Development permits include a landscaping component. They should have additional inspections at regular intervals (ie. every year) where the development officer can review the condition of the landscaping. If there is a shale rock garden that continually has a horrendous weed problem, perhaps the municipality needs to ask the landowner to redo the landscaping. Or if six of the eight trees planted in the first year are dead three years later, the landowner and the development officer might need to come up with a new mutually acceptable plan.
Main arteries and tourism zones
All municipalities have a main highway or a popular traffic route that locals and tourists frequent more than other roads. These are usually evidenced by the highest traffic counts, or they are near major tourist destinations.
These areas must be vigilantly monitored for adherence to local bylaws to keep up the appearance and overall community profile. Creating a special 'Tourism Zone' might accomplish this. Land and building owners in this area will know that regardless of what their intended purpose of the land is, that they must keep it in pristine condition year-round, as the community's reputation is at stake.
Also, special attention must be made to railroad properties, environmentally-contaminated properties, and vacant properties. The owners of these properties often don't have the same incentives to keep these properties beautified, and they are harder for the bylaw officers to cite with notices as there is no one around to receive the notices.