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No billboard for West Donlands park after citizen complaints pile up

Outfront Media has withdrawn an application to erect a digital billboard facing Serena Gundy Park in the West Don park corridor after an outpouring of community protest.
About 32.54 square metres of flashing screen would have been located on the south side of Eglinton Avenue East, east of Leslie Street, within a Canadian Pacific rail corridor. The city received 68 letters about the proposal, all but a couple (from the proponent) opposed to it.
“It would have affected thousands of people in three categories. One is the people living near it. For this type of sign, it flashes every 10 seconds. It’s incredibly bright. If you live within a half a kilometre, it could change the light in your room as it flashes,” says Dave Meslin of the group Scenic Toronto, which fights to safeguard the “visual character” of Toronto’s neighbourhoods, parks, roadways and public spaces. “Then you’ve got all the people who use the park and then third, you’ve got drivers. These signs are designed to distract drivers. So while the government is going out of its way to minimize distraction from cell phone use or whatever, it’s insane for us to give permission to design and install a product which has the sole purpose of distracting drivers’ attention from the road.”
Digital billboards aren’t allowed in most areas of the city but in special areas, a five-person Sign Variance Committee can grant permission. “They’ve done a very good job, but the process only works when the committee hears from both sides, and it’s not a level playing field. The billboard companies have paid lobbyists who know when these meetings are, know how to navigate the agenda and can wait there for hours for their item to show up,” says Meslin, a long-time advocate of better democracy and citizen engagement. “Citizens don’t know about these applications, they don’t know about the meetings, they don’t have time to attend the meetings and they don’t know the procedures.”
Meslin says the city should use plain language, rather bureaucratese, to explain proposals and procedures. Right now the city doesn’t use the word “billboard,” only “sign.” And the city uses the word “static” to describe digital signs that change every 10 seconds.
A staff report to the Sign Variance Committee described the area for the proposed Outfront Media billboard as “largely pastoral and bucolic” and recommended against granting the variance.
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Dave Meslin
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