Village sign rules getting facelift 

Staff to come before council May 1 with recommendations

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More than 20 years ago, Whistler's mayor Drew Meredith cracked down on the proliferation of sandwich boards in the village — banning them outright.

"Everyone had one," recalled Meredith. "You could hardly walk, you could hardly move through the Village Stroll for the sandwich boards... It looked so bad. It looked like everybody was so desperate, and they were, quite frankly."

To outsiders it may appear that the heavy-handed arm of the municipality was creeping into business but in Whistler there's an image to maintain and a world class, up-market village is paramount to that image.

That sign bylaw is one of the reasons why bylaw cracked down on a discreet sign placed outside of the new Pandora store on Village Stroll earlier this month, prompting a frustrated letter to mayor and council by store manager Dorothy Harwood.

"There needs to be some consistency to it," she said of the bylaw, pointing to other stores, which are able to spill out onto the stroll with clothing racks, shoe displays, postcard racks without penalty.

Harwood's letter sparked some comments from mayor and council, and a general consensus that there needs to be a balance between animation and keeping up with the Whistler image — a fine balance. There also needs to be clear and fair rules.

"There seems to be inconsistency with some stores being able to spill out onto the sidewalk with merchandise but other stores not being able to spill out with signage," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

When asked this week if there was something particular about Pandora's sign that prompted bylaw to go in, the municipal communications department said:

"Yes. The sign was a temporary freestanding sign. This is a type of sign that is prohibited by the municipality's sign bylaw."

It's that outdated sign bylaw, among other things, that spurred on the formation of the Business Enhancement Committee — an influential group of landlords, merchants, and planners. Meredith, too, is on that committee.

"One of the things we wanted to do was de-mystify the process by which you might get a new sign or a new awning or a new whatever," said Meredith.

The committee was struck a year ago, when business in the resort was suffering.

Among other things it has helped create a new retail guide that addresses various things affecting the retail environment, from signage to outdoor displays.

One of the things that struck Meredith in particular in this process was seeing how changes to a building as a whole could make a significant difference.

Pandora's building for example, which is also home to Cows, has big wooden buttresses hanging down in front of the stores.

City-based retail consultants showed graphics of what the building would look like without the buttresses. — a huge difference in opening up the storefronts, said Meredith.

The same was true for the "cavelike" covered walkway by the Crystal Lodge. Adding lights can change the feel of the storefronts.

"Some really easy solutions and I think the municipality is trying to say 'look, we're here to help you but we're very, very picky about our village," said Meredith.

Municipal staff is expected before council on May 1 to provide an update and recommendations from the Business Enhancement Committee, along with plans for engaging community members and stakeholders.

This spring there will be the "Bridge to Bridge" pilot project looking at ways to animate the area between Nebbeling Bridge and the bridge beside the Brew House Pub.

It will bring stakeholders together to look at ways to strengthen that "village neighbourhood" through programming and physical improvements.

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