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Planning, Property & Development

Digital Signs Licensing

To date, the City of Winnipeg (City) has issued over 600 digital sign permits for both accessory signs, used to advertise on-site activities, and non-accessory signs (otherwise referred to as digital billboards), used to advertise third-party content. The majority of the digital sign permits issued by the City are for digital accessory signs.

Regulations for digital signs are designed to ensure that their use is compliant with the City's existing zoning regulations, that they do not create a driving safety hazard, and that they do not negatively impact neighbourhood and streetscape aesthetics.

To help ensure compliance to the existing regulations, the City is proposing a licensing program for digital signs. The City is engaging with owners/operators of digital signs on the proposed licensing program to gather feedback to help inform recommendations for Council consideration.

Engage

The City is engaging with key stakeholders, including digital sign contractors and those who operate digital signs, to help inform the City's proposed Digital Signs Licensing program. We are seeking input on stakeholders' knowledge of current by-law requirements, the proposed licensing program overview, and enforcement.

Thank you to those who participated in the online survey, available from July 4 to August 24, 2018. If you would like to provide input on digital signs or would like to stay up to date on the digital signs licensing process, please contact Martin Grady at 204-986-5147 or .

Those who indicated they would like to participate in a focus group session will be contacted with an invitation to a focus group session. Stakeholder focus groups will be held to gather input to help inform recommendations on the proposed licensing program for Council consideration.

If you would like to stay updated on City of Winnipeg public engagement events, follow the City on Facebook and Twitter or City of Winnipeg public engagement newsletter.

Project Timeline

Timeline

Timeline

Background

The use of digital signs for advertising has increased over the past decade. During this time, the City has amended its by-laws to accommodate several forms of digital signs located on hundreds of properties throughout Winnipeg.

To date, the City has issued over 600 digital sign permits for both accessory signs, used to advertise on-site activities, and non-accessory signs (otherwise known as digital billboards), used to advertise third-party content. The majority of the digital sign permits issued by the City are for digital accessory signs.  Since 2012, the City averages 56 digital sign permit requests per year.

Following random inspections of digital signs in 2016, the City discovered significant non-compliance with existing by-law requirements. The proposed licensing program, which would be applicable to both accessory and non-accessory signs, seeks to:

  • Establish a legal relationship between the City and current owners/operators of digital signs, and to enable direct and proactive communication with digital sign owners/operators to reduce non-compliant operations, thereby reducing the resources required for enforcement activity.
  • Provide straightforward and effective ways of addressing non-compliance, and in particular, repeat non-compliance.
  • To enable an on-going source of revenue other than property taxes to pay for ongoing enforcement resources, with a goal of working towards full cost recovery and a user pay system.  

Types of Digital Signs

There are two types of digital signs: accessory signs and non-accessory signs (otherwise referred to as digital billboards).

The majority of digital signs in Winnipeg are accessory signs, used to advertise on-site activities. For example, a digital sign for a bank located on its own property advertising a new mortgage rate.

Fewer than 30 digital sign permits have been issued for non-accessory signs since 1998, which advertise third-party content.

Both accessory signs and non-accessory signs fit into one of three categories:

Digital Reader Boards

Digital Reader Boards Changeable copy signs that use light emitting diodes. Messages are composed of an ordered sequence of alphanumeric characters on a black or dark background.

Digital Static Copy

Digital Static Copy Signs with copy displayed utilizing electronic screens, televisions, computer video monitors, liquid crystal displays, light emitting diode displays, or any other electronic technology where all sign copy is fixed for a set period of time.

Digital Moving Copy

Similar to Digital Static Copy signs except that sign copy is not fixed for a set period of time.


Current Regulations

The City's regulations for digital signs are designed to ensure that their use is compliant with the City's existing zoning regulations, that they do not create a driving safety hazard, and that they do not negatively impact neighbourhood and streetscape aesthetics. As such, the City's regulations include restrictions on location, size, image speed, brightness, and third-party content.

History

In its February 7, 2017 report to the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development (SPC-PDHDD) the Public Service recommended a licensing program for digital signage as an effective means of addressing the above-mentioned issues.

The Committee directed the Public Service to report back within 180 days with recommendations to increase adherence to accessory sign and billboard regulations, to improve the enforcement of non-compliant digital accessory signs and billboard signs and to enhance Board of Adjustment learning opportunities. In addition, the Committee directed that the report include suggested by-law amendments and operational requirements necessary to license digital accessory signs.

At the September 19, 2017 meeting of the SPC-PDHDD, the Committee granted an extension of up to 180 days for to report back on the above items.

In March 2018, the Public Service presented a report to SPC-PDHDD, proposing a licensing program for digital signs.

Possible Features of the Proposed Licensing Program

Element Draft Requirement

Who would need a license

  • A business, organization,  person or owner operating a digital sign
  • License cannot be transferred to a new operator, owner or a new property

When a license would be required

  • Before an operator of a digital sign starts to use their sign. 
  • Initial licenses issued as part of the sign permit package when the original digital sign permit is issued.

How to get a license

  • Complete on-line application, including operator name, contact details, address where sign will be operated
  • The City will confirm if required zoning and building permits have been issued
  • Process confirms that the operator is aware of day to day operational requirements for the sign

Keeping a license valid

  • License must remain valid for as long as the sign is in use by the operator
  • Licenses renewed each year (automatic on-line renewal request sent to licensee)
  • License no longer valid if underlying zoning and building permit approvals are no longer valid
  • The City may revoke a license in the event of repeated non-compliance

Licensing fees

  • Base fee to apply to license holders in good standing. 
  • An escalating fee structure would apply to license holders with a record of repeated non-compliance (See discussion below - Proposed licensing fee structure & non-compliance)

What licensing fees pay for

  • Issuance/renewal of licenses
  • Ongoing communication with license holders in regards to operational requirements for digital signs
  • Ongoing monitoring of digital signs in the community
  • Follow-up and enforcement of community complaints and non-compliance cases
  • Yearly reporting

Documents

Document Name Date Type
Standing Policy Committee Report 2018-03-02 Report
Standing Policy Committee Report 2017-02-07 Report

Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the purpose of existing regulations regarding digital signs?

Regulations for digital signs are designed to ensure that their use is compliant with the City's existing zoning regulations, that they do not create a driving safety hazard, and that they do not negatively impact neighbourhood and streetscape aesthetics. The City's existing regulations include restrictions on:

  • Location;
  • Size;
  • Image speed;
  • Brightness; and,
  • Third-party content (in the case of digital billboards).

Date added: July 3, 2018

What is the difference between a digital accessory sign and a digital billboard?

There are two types of digital signs: accessory signs and non-accessory signs (otherwise referred to as digital billboards).

The majority of digital signs in Winnipeg are accessory signs, used to advertise on-site activities. For example, a digital sign for a bank located on its own property advertising a new mortgage rate.

Fewer than 30 digital sign permits have been issued for non-accessory signs since 1998, which advertise third-party content.

Date added: July 3, 2018

How many digital sign permits have been issued in Winnipeg since the inception of these types of permits?

To date, the City has issued over 600 digital sign permits for both accessory signs, used to advertise on-site activities, and non-accessory signs (otherwise known as digital billboards), used to advertise third-party content. The majority of the digital sign permits issued by the City are for digital accessory signs. Since 2012, the City averages 56 digital sign permit requests per year.

Date added: July 3, 2018

What types of business and organizations have digital signs?

Various businesses and organizations use digital signs, including building owners and tenants of retail businesses, restaurants, as well as community, recreational, and religious organizations, hospitals, and schools.

Date added: July 3, 2018

Why is licensing of digital signs being considered?

The City's regulations for digital signs are designed to ensure that their use is compliant with the City's existing zoning regulations, that they do not create a driving safety hazard, and that they do not negatively impact neighbourhood and streetscape aesthetics. As such, the City's regulations include restrictions on location, size, image speed, brightness, and third-party content.

Following random inspections of digital signs in 2016, the City discovered significant non-compliance with existing by-law requirements. The proposed licensing program, which would be applicable to both accessory and non-accessory signs, seeks to:

  • Establish a legal relationship between the City and current owners/operators of digital signs, and to enable direct and proactive communication with digital sign owners/operators to reduce non-compliant operations, thereby reducing the resources required for enforcement activity.
  • Provide straightforward and effective ways of addressing non-compliance, and in particular, repeat non-compliance.
  • To enable an on-going source of revenue other than property taxes to pay for ongoing enforcement resources, with a goal of working towards full cost recovery and a user pay system. 

Date added: July 3, 2018

What did the City determine based on its 2016 random inspections of digital signs?

In 2016, staff inspected approximately 85 accessory digital signs and found:

  • Forty-nine (49) signs, equivalent to 58% of those inspected, were non-compliant on hold times (sign images changing at a rate faster than 6 seconds)
  • Thirty-three (33) signs, equivalent to 39% of those inspected, were non-static copy (signs showed motion and/or full motion video, which is prohibited for traffic safety reasons)
  • Thirty-four (34) signs, equivalent to 40% of those inspected, were non-compliant for brightness level (high brightness prohibited for traffic safety reasons)
  • Fourteen (14) signs, equivalent to 16% of those inspected, contained flashing or scrolling text (which is prohibited)
  • Eleven (11) signs, equivalent to 13% of those inspected, were deemed to be fully compliant.

Date added: July 3, 2018

Do other Canadian cities license digital signs?

A number of Canadian cities license certain types of signs, such as portable or mobile signs. We are not aware of any cities that currently license digital signs.

Date added: July 3, 2018

How would a proposed licensing for digital signs improve compliance?

The fee structure of the proposed licensing program would enable the City to impose a higher fee for license holders with a poor record of compliance in the preceding year. If compliance records improve, the annual fee would be lowered in the following year. If compliance remains an issue for extended periods of time, a license (and the underlying sign permit) may be revoked.

Date added: July 3, 2018

What is the proposed digital accessory sign fee structure under the proposed licensing program?

Accessory Sign Licensing levels

Licensing Fee (Exact amount TBD)

MBEA /POA & Licensing history

Base Level 1

$200-$250

 

Level 2

$400-$450

 2+ violations /  convictions in licensing year

Level 3

$750-$800

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 2

Level 4

$1200-$1400

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 3

Level 5

$2000

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 4
Hearing before SPC re: continuance of license.

Level 6

$3000

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 5

Level 7

$5000

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 6

Level 8

$7500

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 7

Date added: July 3, 2018

What is the proposed digital non-accessory fee structure under the proposed licensing program?

Non-Accessory Sign Licensing levels

Licensing Fee (Exact amount TBD)

MBEA /POA & Licensing history

Base Level 1

$400-$450

 

Level 2

$750-$800

 2+ violations /  convictions in licensing year

Level 3

$1200-$1400

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 2

Level 4

$2400

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 3

Level 5

$4000

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 4
Hearing before SPC-PDHDD regarding continuance of license.

Level 6

$6000

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 5

Level 7

$8000

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 6

Level 8

$10,000

 1+ violations / convictions in licensing year and at level 7

Date added: July 3, 2018

Has the City consulted with stakeholders on this matter before?

The City is in regular contact with industry groups such as the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Sign Association (MANSA), with whom we have had initial contact in regards to the proposed licensing program to help ensure compliance to the existing regulations. The purpose of this stakeholder consultation is to engage with owners/operators of digital signs on the proposed licensing program to gather feedback to help inform recommendations for Council consideration.

Date added: July 3, 2018

Last update: August 27, 2018