Say bye bye to billboards in Vancouver

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Top of the Lee Building in Vancouver
Thanks to the City of Vancouver's obstinate efforts to remove a billboard, we now have a lovely concrete block to stare at on top of the Lee Building.

A City of Vancouver report released earlier today indicates that a number of billboards may be ripped down if Council gets their way.

COPE Councillor David Cadman has been a long-time advocate to have all 300 of the by-law breaking billboards removed. During the last term of Council, he asked staff to 'take immediate action to ensure compliance with the City’s sign by-law by removing the offending billboards."

Here are some of the highlites of the City report to be debated next week:

  • A total of 13 non-conforming billboards are actually on City property
  • The removal of the 13 billboards on City property will cost the treasury about $200K per year in lost revenue. In addition, there will be a loss of $157K to the City's Property Endowment Fund. Staff predict an additional $50K in costs to cut lawn and remove garbage will also be added to the tax bill. In total, this will be a hit of over $400K per annum.
  • The billboard industry has indicated the removal of these billboards throughout the City could have a real negative impact on jobs
  • The process too remove all of the billboards will be very costly as each of them have to be handled separately with staff preparing lengthy reports
  • It will take up to six years and countless hours of staff time to remove all the billboards

At this point, it's pretty clear that the report will get the support of both COPE Councillors David Cadman and Ellen Woodsworth, but it remains unclear if it will get support from the Vision and NPA councillors. If Council does support the removal, you can expect the folks over at Pattison Outdoor won't be too thrilled. Nor will the employees who will likely be given a pink slip.

The removal process for each of the 300 billboards is going to be very cumbersome. Here is an excerpt from the City report; 

Removal Process

The removal process mandated under the Vancouver Charter will require significant staff resources and Council time. The process outlined below would be required for each of the 313 non-conforming billboards. 

1) Staff prepare a report to Council along with a draft resolution for each non-conforming billboard. 

2) At the Council meeting, the owner and other persons with legal interest in the matter must be given the opportunity to make representations to Council. Therefore, each affected property owner and other interested persons must be notified. While there are just two major sign companies with billboards in the city, the billboards are located on many privately-owned sites. It is anticipated that many owners will want to address Council about loss of revenue and hardship issues associated with the removal of the billboard.

3) After hearing from owners and other interested parties, Council will have to consider the circumstances of each case and decide whether or not to pass a resolution ordering the removal of the legally non-conforming billboard. Council’s decisions have to be made on a case by case basis, based on the individual merits of each case rather than a blanket policy.

4) The resolution must be passed by two-thirds of all members of Council (i.e., at least eight votes). 

5) If Council passes a resolution ordering removal of a billboard, staff must then take the necessary steps to enforce Council’s order should the property owners refuse to comply with it. This may involve commencement of injunction proceedings or other litigation and will consume considerable Law Department resources.

The billboard industry reps have asked Council to consider other options than simply ripping down the existing billboards. The report states:

Staff met with representatives of the two sign companies who own most billboards in the City (Pattison, CBS Outdoor) in early 2008. Staff explained the Council direction regarding non-conforming billboards and described the removal process. Both representatives expressed concern about the loss of opportunity that would result, as well as loss of jobs. In addition, they suggested the following alternatives:

• Increased opportunities around transit lines, including a decreased distance
• Replacement of some billboards with digital billboards
• Increased opportunities for billboards in the entertainment district
• Opportunities for smaller billboards, building wraps
• Delay of removal requirement to a future time

The first efforts to remove these non-conforming billboards was started by the NPA in June 2000. The effort was silly then, and it's equally silly now. Those billboards have been there for years, and during the time I worked at the Mayor's office, I don't recall getting a single complaint about them. In other words, it's a non-issue.

What I do vividly recall is the City's legal department spending countless dollars to fight in court for the removal of a billboard atop the historic Lee Building on West Broadway and Main Street. It became the "poster child" for the City's efforts to rid itself of what the politicians considered as ugly and nuisance billboards.

The owner had been using the revenue generated from the billboard to restore the historic building back to its former glory. In the end, the City forced him to remove the billboard, and all that remains is an ugly stump (see above photo). Big victory that was. As for the historic building, there is no longer a revenue stream dedicated to maintaining it.

If Vancouver ever wants to be considered in the same league as other world-class cities like New York, London or Paris, it had better think long and hard about a crackdown on billboards. After all, what would the New York experience be without billboards and bright lights? Lucky for the Big Apple they don't have Cadman on Council.

You can expect many long nights of debate on this one. However, at the end of the day, I predict Vision won't take on Pattison Outdoor. Like previous Council's, they'll find a reason to keep studying this one for just a little while longer.


I say a hardy thank you to the city for making Vancouver billboard free! Have you driven down the Pat Highway on the way to the Victoria Airport lately? It looks like some american strip mall. it is ugly. I would much rather look at trees. Do you remember when almost every building across every bridge in Vancouver had billboards? I do. If you want Vancouver to look like Toronto along the expressway then MOVE TO TORONTO. I say bravo for getting rid of billboards and while they are at it can we make that awful digital sign on future shop "go dark" as well???? It is bad enough that every vehiclea will soon enough be inundated with advertising including transit buses which you can not see out of because of the cover it all scheme. BRING DOWN THE BILLBOARDS.

Yay! I love rooftops!

Down with illegal billboards!

Honestly, ask yourself this; when was the last time you saw a really great billboard. I mean, one worth taking a picture beside. In Vancouver.

While "The billboard industry has indicated the removal of these billboards throughout the City could have a real negative impact on jobs" it turns out they were referring to their OWN jobs! So once again, another victory!

The removal of illegal billboards will also provide an opportunity for savvy advertisers to reinvest their marketing strategies online!

I know of a few billboards that look much better than the buildings they sit beside.

That second last paragraph is laughable. I don't think it's the billboards that make NYC a world class city. Same goes for Vancouver. I'm looking forward to seeing these billboards come down.

people say bring down the billboards but do they think about the money that the outdoor advertising company's put back into the system. Pattison donates a lot of money to places like hospitals, charities and yes jobs there are many employees that work on the signs from construction workers to electricians to billposters. so what if our port city has billboards if you want a cleaner place to live move to the valley.You know lets not worry about something that gives people jobs lets concentrate on health care homeless people and this new stupid HST.

Do billboards make a city great? Not necessarily, but one thing that really hurts a city is government making by-laws that stifle business and limit what an owner can do with their own property.
Some people think that a billboard looks good, some don't. That's taste or style or visual aesthetic or whatever you choose to call it. It's subjective and we should acknowledge that tastes will differ, but not try to legislate it. There are MUCH better things that the city should be doing with its time than cutting off one of its streams of revenue in the name of "good taste."

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