Residents post 'Notice of Violation' on 2 billboards considered illegal on Bathurst near Davenport
Message comes after 15 years of requests by residents to city hall to remove signs
Some Toronto residents, fed up with what they consider inaction by city hall, have postered over two billboards they believe are illegal to create one large "Notice of Violation" message.
The message in large lettering comes after 15 years of requests by residents to city hall to remove the signs on Bathurst Street north of Davenport Road. Residents put the notice up on Friday.
Dave Meslin, a concerned neighbour, said a few people who live in Ward 12, Toronto-St. Paul's felt that they had no choice but to take matters into their own hands.
"We noticed a lot of billboards in our ward didn't have permits. We targeted this one just as an experiment and asked city staff to take them down," Meslin told CBC Toronto on Monday.
"They sent a notice of violation to the billboard company in 2006. But they only used a 24-point font. We thought, maybe we need to use a 24,000-point font, because clearly, the message didn't get across the first time."
'It's called public space for a reason'
Meslin said there are hundreds of billboards in Toronto, and 15 years ago, residents teamed up with urban planning students from Ryerson University to do an audit of billboards in the ward. They found out that the majority of them didn't have clear permits.
"There's definitely dozens of illegal corporate billboards in Toronto and we think city hall should enforce the bylaws and take them down. I mean, it's called public space for a reason. This is our space, not theirs."
WATCH | Residents take matters into their own hands:
Meslin said residential neighbourhoods do not need "visual pollution" that comes from commercial advertising.
"In public space, if we are going to have boards up with signs, it should be art made by the local high school kids, it should be messages from the local church, or synagogue, or mosque, or residents' association," Meslin said.
"It could be just a big bulletin board for people to put message up. The last thing we need in our residential neighbourhood is just more corporate signage."
Documents released by the city in response to a Freedom of Information request show the billboards have been there since at least 1951. The billboards are located on 25 Burnside Dr.
In 2006, the city issued a Notice of Violation to Mediacom Inc., now known as CBS Outdoor, a division of CBS Canada Holdings Inc., saying it did not have a signed permit for the billboards in contravention of the Toronto Municipal Code. Since 2006, the city and the company have argued over record-keeping and legality.
According to CBS Outdoor, the billboards have "legal non-conforming status." On its website, the City of Toronto says that status "exists when the zoning for the site does not permit its current use, but this use was permitted and in existence prior to the enactment of the current zoning bylaw."
According to Meslin, there is no evidence that any permits ever existed for the billboards and the company has produced no evidence to support its claim.
"It's our city, right? It's your city, it's my city. It's not their playground to do whatever they want," he said. "We're reclaiming this public space, but also reclaiming city hall because they're not doing their job of protecting our space so we're doing it ourselves."
'Grassroots' notice makes point, councillor says
Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents Ward 12, Toronto-St Paul's, said if billboards are in place, they need to have a permit, and if they do not have a permit, they should not be there.
"If residents are questioning the legality of those billboards, they need to be explored, investigated and determined whether or not they are legal," he said.
Matlow said he sympathizes with the concerns of residents opposed to the billboards. He said their "grassroots notice of violation" was creative and made an important point.
"I think that the residents not only are coming from the right place, but certainly, if the company can't demonstrate that they even have the legal right to have their billboards up in the first place, that has to be addressed."
Matlow said he is working with city staff, including lawyers, to determine whether the advertising should be removed and if it should have been there in the first place.