Nanaimo business powers down LED sign

NANAIMO – The city threatened court action if a Nanaimo business did not turn off a sign that violated local bylaws.

A Nanaimo businessman has pulled the plug on an animated LED sign after city officials threatened to take court action.

The SoakHouse owner David Sauve has been at loggerheads with city officials for close to nine months over orders to turn off his flashing LED sign.  He is not prepared to wave any white flags yet, but said he has temporarily shut the sign down to avoid enforcement action.

The City of Nanaimo issued a formal warning this month that it would take Sauve to court if his sign wasn’t brought into compliance with local bylaws.

The sign violates rules that prohibit stores from displaying animated LED signs without a permit.

“[This week the SoakHouse] is in compliance [but] with any electrical device it can be turned off and on,” said Toby Seward, the city’s director of development. “We will work with him on what the options are … [and] continue to monitor the situation and hopefully we won’t have to do any more enforcement action.”

Sauve says he is contemplating next steps, but feels “betrayed” by the recent ultimatum and is concerned customers will no longer be able to find his Bowen Road store as easily. He started displaying the window sign in 2008 to help attract more foot traffic. People were calling the store from the parking lot, confused about where the entrance was, he said.

According to Sauve the city initially took issue with the display when he first flipped the switch and had asked him to apply for a variance. When he refused, the issue seemed to go away, he said. He was not approached about a bylaw infraction until 2012.

“How do you go that long without saying anything? Did I slip through the cracks?” He said. “My understanding was that they had made an exception.”

According to the City of Nanaimo, there was no enforcement for sign bylaws between 2009 and 2011 while city council determined new rules for LED displays. City staff noticed the SoakHouse display was still animated the following year and when requests to voluntary compliance failed, threatened enforcement.