Zoning bylaws complicate a commercial sign installation

Here’s our account of an interesting legal battle that started back in August 2015 and immediately complicated what should have been an easy commercial sign installation for Sign Source Solution. The pylon sign out front of 1131A Leslie St. is our second project with the same client and so we expected the same smooth sailing straightforward design installation experience. But Toronto City Council had other plans for our proposal.

We had stepped out of line you see, we had deviated from the normal way of doing things and so they tried to impose their will on our design application, citing some pretty illogical reasons (in our opinion, but for the purposes of this tell-all blog post we’ll just stick to the facts).

WHERE: 1131A Leslie St. is an eight storey commercial building in Toronto with 41,931 Sq Ft of office space for dentists, lawyers and investment bankers; there are many different and important businesses in this location and so the public would definitely be assisted by a monument sign out front of the premises. Such an installation is absolutely necessary to list the names and suite numbers of the tenants underneath a message board highlighting special events.
1131-Aleslie-St Toronto

When the Google Earth image of the property above was uploaded to their servers there was still no sign out front of the building. That’s because even when this most recent image was taken and posted online the sign permit was still being bitterly disputed before the courts.

Mounting the Case for a Monument Sign at 1131A Leslie St

Let’s be clear, Sign Source Solution specializes in helping small and medium sized businesses navigate local zoning bylaws. We can provide everything they need in terms of design schematics, diagnostics, timeline, and expertise in other avenues. We will even travel to appear in tribunals alongside our clients. And this is more or less what happened with the pylon sign zoning bylaw issue we encountered at 1131a Leslie St blew up into an expensive legal battle for the landlord.

The ‘McGuffin’ as Hitchcock would say, was that the owner of the building wanted to put a message board near the top of the monument sign, and not at the bottom where it might be easily overlooked. That’s because our client knows that such an elevated visual display is the best and most effective way to communicate info and showcase high priority tenants and streamline pedestrian and vehicular traffic to the site. Such a display would assist driver’s visual search for their destinations, and in our client’s experience, such a message board is key to delivering visitor satisfaction by giving them the security of knowing they are in the right place the moment they arrive.

So what we needed was a variant, because in our initial application the permit was declined for two reasons, one because the message board was on the top half of the sign – and the permit issued allowed for the ‘message board’ to occupy the bottom of the pylon sign only.

The other issue was OS (Open Space). You can’t really see it in the photo above, but the location is facing a park and the concern was that the sign, when lit up at night will affect / disturb the wildlife. Let’s be clear this pylon structure is only twenty-two feet (22’) tall and the concern was that the display area of 6’ x 6’ Message Board would have an impact on the wildlife across the street (OS).

Suffice to say the business owner objected to ruling and we set about appealing the judgement. We applied for a variance to request a sign outside the parameters set by the bylaw.

The process is rather secretive. The issues are weighed and judged behind closed doors by city councillors and other municipal politicos who have various beliefs and agendas too varied or nuanced to calculate. One thing came through crystal clear. Our variance application was denied.

The councillors would only allow a sign with the ‘read-o-graph’ at the bottom.

The cost of doing battle over commercial sign variance in Toronto can be crippling.

The first law firm our client hired came in at $300 /hr so our client soon decided to represent himself. An early achievement for him was finding a city planner who would appear in court on his behalf and cite the multitude of reasons why the judgement was irrational. But there was a cost for that too. And so in the end, after we’d researched everything and put together the best case we could muster, our customer and a representative from Sign Source Solution decided to go alone in front of the committee and present the facts. That especially sensitive event happened on Tuesday June 1st 2016 and as we went in front of the Sign Variance Committee we uncovered our own research and expert opinions.


Wes Neichenbauer (Chief Financial Officer – Rowntree Enterprises Inc.) led and challenged the Sign Variance Committee with indisputable arguments. He showed pictures of a nearby BMW car dealership which was lit up at night “like a Christmas tree”, and therefore much more of a disturbance to wildlife than our sign. Wes also displayed more than one study done in area with residents and tenants who revealed that that they desperately wanted a sign out front of the building to display their business names and help customers. Public opinion was on the side of the appellant.

Anyway there is a happy ending. On June 1st 2016 the decision was overturned and our installers went ahead with the monument sign installation exactly as requested by the client with the read-o-graph and display of graphic at the top of the pillar. The sign went up six days later, seven months behind schedule.


So now you know the story behind the sign at 1131A Leslie St in Toronto. If you have anything to add or share about this story or any other posts you read here please visit us at our Facebook page.

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