IllegalSigns.ca Gets Billboard Taken Down Less Than A Day After It Went Up
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IllegalSigns.ca Gets Billboard Taken Down Less Than A Day After It Went Up


And Torontoist was there to make a video of it.
Context after the jump.


There are a number of things you need to legally erect a billboard in this city. First and foremost is a permit, and because Toronto actually has a reasonably strict sign bylaw, you often need to obtain a variance from City Council before one of those can be issued. Another thing you need, if you’re building a fascia (wall) sign, is an encroachment agreement with the owner of the abutting property. This can be as simple as a letter from the adjacent property owner saying he or she is cool with the sign intruding into his or her air space, but usually involves money changing hands.
As is typical for Strategic Media, whom Rami Tabello has dubbed the bottom-dwellers of Toronto’s outdoor advertising industry, they obtained none of those things for their sign at 869 Queen Street West. Now, as we all know, not having a permit for a sign isn’t much of an actual problem in Toronto; although, under the Municipal Act, the City can legally remove a sign and add the bill to a property owner’s taxes, they just won’t. Sometimes they’ll lay charges against a property owner and eventually have fines imposed by a court, but those penalties of course work out to a fraction of the profit a sign generates. Even then, all a billboard company has to do is sue the City of Toronto, claiming the bylaws are unfair; the City Solicitor will stay all charges until the matter is settled by the courts, and in the intervening years the company can rake in millions of dollars off their illegal signs. That tactic worked like a charm for Titan Outdoor, so Strategic Media followed suit (pun intended) and was granted the same across-the-board immunity.
So really the only way Strategic could fuck up at this point would be to have a sign encroaching on the property of someone who doesn’t want it there. Not a problem, most people can be bought. But Strategic, in their arrogance or ignorance, went ahead and built a sign on a wall abutting property owned by Fred Dominelli, one of the most powerful and well-connected backroom players in Toronto politics.
Dominelli’s an interesting guy, a larger-than-life figure whom most people haven’t heard of but followers of local politics consider one of the most disproportionately influential people in the city. You can read about him in the auto-hagiography vestigially remaining on the City website from the six months in 2003 he was the fill-in councillor for Ward 17 (Davenport). (If a seat becomes vacant after November 30 of the year prior to an election, Council appoints someone to fill the seat, as it’s cheaper than holding a by-election.) But it’s more entertaining to watch this video, from his 2006 run for Council in the same ward, against incumbent Cesar Palacio and popular NDP challenger Alejandra Bravo. Dominelli knows stuff about illegal billboards himself, raking in revenue from several (including some video screens) on property he owns alongside the Gardiner, in the ward of his longtime close friend, Councillor (and Deputy Mayor) Joe Pantalone. Whether the City builds the Front Street Extension or some other corridor along those lands, he stands to make a good chunk of money from the presciently purchased property; the value of the land is further increased by those illegal billboards, and taxpayers will have to cough up market value for them.
2008_8_2StrategicMedia.jpg But today Fred’s the good guy. While driving along Queen Street on Thursday, Rami noticed a new sign had gone up that day on the side of Pantev Sewing Machine Ltd., the building immediately east of the 7-Eleven near Trinity-Bellwoods. And it had a nameplate: Strategic Media. Which is mostly notable because no other sign of theirs has a nameplate, for obvious reasons. But enjoying the protection afforded by the City Solicitor, Strategic evidently got a little hubristic and decided to claim credit for the city’s newest vinyl fascia location. Rami was certain that no billboard company would be stupid enough to build a sign encroaching on the 871-873 Queen West property (the 7-Eleven avec gas station) owned by Dominelli without reaching an agreement with him. So Rami did a post late Thursday night mocking Dominelli for “getting into bed with Strategic Media, the incorrigible bottom dwellers of Toronto’s outdoor advertising industry,” despite his 2010 Council ambitions.
Dominelli saw the post bright and early Friday morning (whether he’s a regular reader of IllegalSigns.ca or has a Google News Alert set up for his own name is unclear; both are equally plausible) and got Strategic head Dan Pitoscia into his office by 10:30 a.m. Dominelli, it turns out, had no knowledge of this billboard going up, let alone an encroachment agreement. Nor would he ever sign one, as he and the owner of 869 Queen are mortal enemies. As Rami later observed, whoever put up the billboard was criminally trespassing on Dominelli’s property, as was the sign itself. But more than that, Dominelli claims the western half (about six inches) of the wall is his, as per a 1996 court ruling (ironically, a ruling that was not in his favour).
Something happened in the meeting between Dominelli and Pitoscia—perhaps Dominelli threatened to press charges or sue?—and Pitoscia agreed to have the sign gone by noon (ninety minutes later). Rather impressively, he was good to his word: a few minutes after 12:00, a single worker from Grant Sign Service (almost certainly the same company that had put the sign up the day before) arrived in a special truck and spent a good twenty minutes carefully taking down the vinyl and detaching the nameplate.
Torontoist brought our camera, bought a cream soda Big Gulp, and settled down on a gas pump island to join Rami and Dominelli watch the magic happen.
Now, vinyl signs are typically just cut down with scissors, so the fact that the GSS worker took great care to leave the sign intact, even rolling it up into a neat bundle, implies that Strategic is planning on re-erecting it elsewhere—Rami speculates 127 Portland. As for the sign structure (the bolts and wires and that stuff), Dominelli requested that it remain so that he can have the damage to his wall assessed prior to possibly taking legal action against his neighbour.
All in all, a good Friday afternoon in the city.
Video and photo by Jonathan Goldsbie. The song in the video (a rearrangement of the Donkey Kong Country bonus level music) is “One Zero One” by Icy Guy, from Kong in Concert, OverClocked ReMix (www.ocremix.org).

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