TAO: The Adventure Outfitters in sign dispute

Cloth signs violate heritage district regulations

It was a big boost to the downtown retail scene when TAO The Adventure Outfitters moved from Bayers Lake to old Freemasons building on the corner of Salter and Granville Street. But when the new owners put up seven cloth signs announcing their presence, they were hit with a bylaw infraction notice for violating the provisions of the newly created Barrington Street Heritage District.

“This is more difficult because they put up the signs without first applying for a permit,” explains Bill Plaskett, the city’s heritage planner. “Had they done that, we could have told them what the restrictions were. So they had to go back and do that, but the signs don’t meet the permit requirements.”

City bylaw officers issued a compliance order to TAO, to be met by September 30. That date has come and gone, and the signs remain.

TAO representatives, who have not returned repeated calls for comment, arranged a meeting at Peter Kelly’s office to discuss the issue, says Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. That meeting included Kelly, MacKinnon, TAO reps and Plaskett’s staff.

MacKinnon is himself in an awkward position. “We are representing a downtown business, but we also are co-authors of the heritage protection plan,” he says. That plan, which goes back about a decade, and was eventually rolled into the HRM By Design guidelines that regulate planning downtown, lays out specific rules for signs, including their number, size and material. TAO fails on all counts, having seven cloth signs where two solid signs are allowed.

For the present, the signs sit in an awkward limbo. Plaskett says that there may be the ability to amend the regulations, and that there are some reasonable considerations---TAO’s corner site is arguably reason for twice the number of signs, and there are other nearby cloth signs grandfathered in---but it will take time and considerable debate. MacKinnon argues that the wind tunnel from the Maritime Centre makes it dangerous for TAO to put up solid signs.

“We’re hoping we can delay any decision until January,” says MacKinnon, “when [TAO] can take advantage of the city’s facade program,” which provides financing for storefront renovation, including new signs.

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