By Ron Giofu
The town’s economic development advisory committee plans to appear before council to ask that the issue of the Rotary Ribfest sign issue be revisited.
The Ribfest committee, which operates under the umbrella of the Rotary Club of Amherstburg, asked for an extension from 14 days to 28 days prior to their July 7-9 event to better promote the festival but were refused at the March 22 meeting. A motion from Councillor Leo Meloche that night failed to get a seconder.
Carl Gibb, Ribfest committee chair, appeared before the economic development committee and noted the signs “are very important to us” and used the example of the Rotary Club’s recent pasta dinner to show how important signs are to them.
Without a roadside sign, Gibb told the committee that attendance dropped.
Gibb said they would put up ten larger signs around the town in the past and took them down immediately after the event. The club currently cannot have the smaller push-in lawn signs erected on homeowners’ properties as well.
“These are not ugly signs. They are not bristol board with magic marker,” said Gibb. “We spent a lot of money on these signs.”
It was “amazing” to Gibb that the push-in lawn signs are not allowed on residential property. He added they could put up signs in other communities, but not Amherstburg until 14 days before the event.
“It’s frustrating. I don’t know what we are going to do,” said Gibb. “If attendance is down, we may go to another municipality.”
Gibb said that two weeks is “not enough” for people to be aware of an upcoming event. He said they are not trying to threaten council, but noted the committee puts a lot of time and effort planning the festival.
“If the numbers aren’t there, you can’t sustain it. That’s a fair statement and not a threat,” replied Meloche.
Manager of licensing and enforcement Nicole Rubli said that section of the bylaw has been in place since 2006. She noted the bylaw department is “complaint driven” and there were concerns about an abundance of signage last year with Communities in Bloom judges coming.
The town is participating in Communities in Bloom again this year. Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale pointed out that Communities in Bloom and Ribfest did not occur at the same time last year.
Rubli said there were also concerns about signs for multiple events being up simultaneously.
“Because the town is blessed with so many events, there could be a lot of signs up at one time essentially promoting six different events as timelines overlap,” she said.
Meloche believed such restrictions like the town has in place limits freedom of expression and believed it should be pointed out that the town risks losing Ribfest.
Carolyn Davies, president of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce and that organization’s appointee to the committee, wondered if distance between signs could resolve the issue.
“Maybe it’s a matter of limiting the number of signs,” she said.
Economic Development Advisory Committee chair Bob Rozankovic said the issue at hand was the 14-day extension.
“I support the bylaw the way it is. I support its intent,” said Rozankovic, but said the spirit of the bylaw must also be considered.
“This bylaw does create opportunities for exemptions,” said Rozankovic.
Rozankovic believed any court in the land would uphold an exemption, particularly for a worthy cause.
Davies said there was little to do in Amherstburg when she arrived 20 years ago and “by 2006, we still didn’t have very much.” Things have changed since 2006 and she believed the bylaw needs more updating, particularly since the tourism component to Amherstburg has evolved.
“I think this bylaw is archaic,” said Davies. “It needs to be redeveloped. We’re dealing with a different era than when it was written in 2006.”
The committee, led by Rozankovic, plan to appear before town council April 24 regarding extending the period for Ribfest signs to 28 days.
The Ribfest is scheduled for July 7-9 at Centennial Park.