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Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Have you ever driven along the 407 or the Gardiner Expressway and wondered about the super-sized billboards you whiz past? It may seem like they’re just slapped up anywhere, but there are limits on billboard signage here in the City. Right now, however, there’s an application to put a super-sized digital billboard in a prohibited area right here in Don Valley North. While it may not seem like the most important thing, I think you should be concerned. Let’s take a look at our city’s sign bylaws and why they should stick to the book when it comes to this application.

A similar size and style of billboard on the Gardiner.

In 2010, then-Mayor David Miller and Council used our new City of Toronto Act powers to collect a tax on billboards. At the same time, we had staff design a strict sign bylaw to control the location, size, proximity, and speed of image changes of billboards. This bylaw was key, as it ensured that we wouldn’t inadvertently fill the city with visual pollution just to balance our books with the new billboard tax revenue. Like with most laws and bylaws, there is an appeals process. Advertising companies apply to the Sign Variance Committee when they want to build a billboard. If they don’t like the Committee’s decision, they can appeal to City Council. Currently, Council is reviewing an appeal to allow a massive digital billboard at the westbound ramp to the 401 at Leslie Street. Now, I don’t really mind these giant digital billboards when they’re out on the 407. There’s such a large green buffer surrounding the highway that they don’t compete with many distractions. Here in the city, I despise them. On a high-volume highway in a densely populated area, like the Gardiner, these billboards are so distracting that they can be downright dangerous.

This is how large each proposed billboard would be.

This gets a bit technical, but here is the exact language from the sign application review that affects our ward:

To establish regulations for a sign with two rectangular sign faces, each with a vertical dimension of 4.27 metres and horizontal dimension of 14.63 metres, sign face area of approximately 62.47 square metres each (three times larger than permitted by the Sign By-law); a height of 22.86 metres (more than twice as high as permitted in the Sign By-law); for the two sign faces to be built in a "v-shaped" configuration, which is typically prohibited by the Sign By-law; built within 60 metres of a Commercial Residential ("CR") Sign District; and, located within 250 metres and facing properties within CR, Institutional ("I"), Open Space ("OS") and Residential ("R") Sign Districts, which is also prohibited by the Sign By-law. ("The Proposed Sign”)

Essentially, this is describing a digital Super-Billboard at Leslie and the 401 that is three times larger than what the City usually allows. Each sign would be 14 feet high and 48 feet across, placed 75 feet in the air. The height of these billboards is important to the applicant, because the taller the installation, the more time cars have to absorb the images from a distance. The problem is that it also means the light from the billboard will cast into more and more residential windows. Some of my Council colleagues downtown regularly take complaints about light pollution from residents living near similar signs on the Gardiner.

A map showing the proposed location of the super-sized billboard.

The proposed location contravenes a number of points in the sign bylaw: It’s too close to North York General Hospital, the residential towers in Concord Park Place, and homes in Henry Farm. It’s also too close and too bright for homes on the other side of the highway, which I’ve brought to the attention of my colleague Councillor Robinson. It’s also too close to the 401 itself, which City Council declared as a prohibited zone for third party signs back in 2010, knowing that signs here would not contribute positively to the city’s appearance. Knowing that there are a number of bylaw contraventions in this application, the applicant and his lobbyist are being very clever. They’re offering to remove five older billboards around the city in exchange for the approval of this billboard. I understand why this is a tempting offer to other Councillors, but it’s not a good deal. The problem with this removal offer is that it takes away smaller, older billboards that have already been deemed “legal non-compliant”. This means that the current signs are allowed, but if they’re taken down no one would be able to put up new ones. The applicant is offering to take these down because these five signs have become less profitable and are no longer in demand by advertisers. The applicant thinks this is a fair trade for a giant billboard in an area that is not permitted and sadly, our Provincial Government agrees. Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney has indicated that she thinks this is a fair trade, but I disagree.

The advertising industry is playing a game of “Go Big or Go Home”. They know that smaller, static billboards don’t grab attention anymore, so they’re doing everything they can to keep your attention while driving. If we don’t take a stand now, this new Super-Billboard location in the heart of Don Valley North will open the floodgates for several more across the city. Next stop, the Don Valley Parkway.

We have an opportunity to take action on this issue right now, before City Council casts the final vote on this matter. Click the button below to send an email to the Mayor and all of my fellow Councillors to let them know how concerned you are about this. Be sure to forward this to your friends, too. Our community needs to make it known that we don’t want to see this giant, distracting, and polluting fixture on the busiest section of the 401.


Planning & Development Updates

Upcoming Community Meetings

500 Sheppard Avenue East:

Monday, June 6 @ 7:00 PM

This application proposes the redevelopment of the site with a 35- and 39-storey mixed use building with a total of 928 dwelling units.

Please register here and you will receive further instructions by email. You can join each meeting online (via WebEx) or call in by phone.

As always, our office will keep you informed and involved after the initial community consultation on each application.


Upcoming Vaccine Clinics in Don Valley North

Parkway Forest Community Centre (55 Forest Manor Rd.) &

Oriole Community Centre (2975 Don Mills Rd. W.)

North York General Hospital is running two walk-in vaccine clinics in our area in June:

  • Parkway Forest Community Centre every Wednesday (4:00 - 7:30 PM)

  • Oriole Community Centre every Thursday (4:00 - 7:30 PM)

First, second, third, and fourth doses are available for those eligible. For more information, visit the link below:


Meet Mahnaz Ghalib, our Don Valley Northerner of the Week! Mahnaz has helped bring so much vibrancy to the neighbourhood through Friends of Dallington Park and Dallington Pollinators, including establishing the park's community garden and helping create its new shade structure/ rainwater harvesting system. Thank you, Mahnaz, for helping promote sustainability and a connection with our environment for neighbours of all ages.

Nominate a Neighbour! Do you know someone in your neighbourhood who makes a difference? Nominate them for Don Valley Northerner of the Week! To submit a nomination, please send a short blurb (~100 words) about the person you are nominating to My team will contact you if we select your nominee as Don Valley Northerner of the Week!


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