A local hotelier who has had previous disputes with the Village of Pemberton says he feels “singled out” by the village’s bylaw enforcement policy regarding prohibited signs.
David MacKenzie, owner and general manager at the Pemberton Valley Lodge, is upset that his hotel’s sandwich board sign was removed by bylaw services last week when other, similar signs remain standing around town.
MacKenzie is awaiting a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) ruling regarding his discrimination claim against the village. He said he believes that pending case had an impact on the village’s decision to remove the sign from near the intersection of Highway 99 and Portage Road, which directed guests past the lights to reach the hotel.
“That just seems to be how they do business with me,” said MacKenzie, a gay, former village firefighter who accused Fire Chief Russell Mack of homophobia and other forms of discrimination in his BCHRT complaint.
“If they’re going to pick mine up based on the existing bylaw, then they need to pick up everybody’s.”
With minimal exceptions, sandwich board signs are prohibited under Pemberton’s current sign bylaw. An updated bylaw is expected to go to council for readings in October that will recommend allowing those type of temporary signs under an “encroachment/sidewalk use permit” after dozens of local businesses communicated the desire to see them permitted, according to a report to council in June.
In the meantime, Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Sailland said that the village “only enforces on infractions that are complaint-based or causing a public safety concern.” Sailland confirmed that a complaint was registered against the Pemberton Valley Lodge sign “as Mr. MacKenzie’s sandwich board… was on a competitor’s business frontage.”
“At this time we are… asking those (using) sandwich boards to exercise reason with sign placement and use as we draft a new bylaw,” said Sailland. “This said, should a valid complaint be made, as may be raised by Mr. MacKenzie, about the use of sandwich boards in general, then our current bylaw would have to be enforced and all sandwich boards would be removed.”
MacKenzie disagreed with the claim his sign was on a competitor’s frontage. He also questioned why the village isn’t addressing all similar violations if complaints are being registered, adding that there are many sandwich board signs placed on sidewalks around Pemberton that could be considered a public safety hazard.
“It’s kind of sad to see that our bylaws are enforced on a complaint basis, and I would think that once somebody complains about one, wouldn’t you have to go around and enforce all of them?” said MacKenzie. “I’m singled out, which I don’t think is fair. I have enough trouble with the village as it is.”
Staff members have previously expressed to council that bylaws are being enforced on the complaint basis due to staffing challenges. A part-time bylaw officer position was initially penciled into the 2012 budget to help beef up response and bylaw enforcement on behalf of the village, but was removed before adoption.
MacKenzie said he wished the village would have tried to work with him to find acceptable use and placement for the sign rather than simply dropping it off in the hotel lobby.
“Why wouldn’t they call me up and say, ‘David, we’ve got a complaint… someone thinks your sign is in front of their business, let’s go have a look at this’?” said MacKenzie.
“We’re just trying to run an honest business here and everybody knows it’s been a hard year. It just shows that the village is not open for business and they’re making it difficult for all of us.”
There is no indication as to when the BCHRT ruling will be released. The final hearings of the case went before the tribunal in October 2011.