Owner of the Fernie Fox Hotel on Hwy 3 Jeremiah Pauw with the giant sign on his building, which is against city bylaws. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Owner of the Fernie Fox Hotel on Hwy 3 Jeremiah Pauw with the giant sign on his building, which is against city bylaws. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Giant fox under the microscope

The Fernie Fox Hotel sign is way bigger than permitted

One and a half years ago a giant fox (10.59 square metres to be exact) sign was installed on the front of the then-newly independent Fernie Fox Hotel.

The huge orange fox is very prominent on Hwy 3 on the south end of Fernie – you can’t miss it leaving town.

Despite the sign’s huge size, it’s now under a microscope, with staff at the City of Fernie having recently recommended it be removed, because it’s too big and contravenes city signage bylaws.

The sign approved by staff before it was installed on April 1, 2020, was 4.0m squared, compared to the 10.59m squared sign currently adorning the hotel.

Owner of the hotel, Jeremiah Pauw said it was all due to a mistake – there had been two designs made – one rejected by the city and one approved – and the wrong sign had been delivered.

It was installed on April 1 last year and … nobody from the city said anything, until now.

“When it showed up I was like ok, I guess I’ll just shut up and see what happens. Then a year and a half later this is what’s happening,” said Pauw.

Pauw said that since it was installed, he had received nothing but positive feedback from neighbouring businesses, fellow hoteliers in town and passers-by, not to mention his own customers.

But, he acknowledged the sign was not legal, and the hotel was now in the sights of city bureaucracy.

“However, personally – and I know I’m biased – I think it looks great. It adds to the town, it’s not an eyesore by any means.”

As a result, he has asked for the city to allow the sign to stay – because 18 months into his hotel’s independence, it only just had its first day fully-booked out on July 1, his revenues had been significantly below what a roadside hotel in a tourist town would expect in a typical year due to the pandemic, and the cost of rectifying the sign was hard to swallow.

“With the cost of that sign, the cost of removing it and then producing and putting up a new sign that’s a bill of $55,000, which is hard to stomach right now. I am literally going to have to go into overdraft to pay for it.”

Besides that, the sign looked good, he said.

“(The current sign) is memorable, it adds character to the town.”

During discussion at the June 28 council meeting, councillors expressed general support for the sign, with Councillor Troy Nixon saying he liked the sign and saw no issues, and Councillor Yvonne Prest saying she didn’t want to penalise a business having a rough time for something that nobody appeared to care about. Mayor Ange Qualizza stressed the need for consistency, but in the end voted to approve a variance to allow the sign, which will trigger a public hearing.

Councillor Prest, who said she loved what the Fernie Fox Hotel had done for Fernie through community support, argued that she personally was fine with the sign and didn’t want to inflict such a financial blow on the business, but also wanted to hear from the community on whether the sign was egregious or not.

According to manager of planning, Derek Cimolini, a handful of queries came into the city immediately after the sign was installed, prompting staff to investigate and then discover the discrepancy. He said he didn’t believe the queries came from neighbouring businesses, but passers-by curious about how such a large sign was allowed.

He added that no complaints had been received in the following 18-month period, and no follow-up queries had come in since the initial small flurry of questions.

As expected, Pauw is hopeful he can keep the sign, saying he was confident he had the support of neighbouring businesses.

The wall was boring without it anyway, said Pauw.

“If I do have to take it down, I will seriously think about getting some sort of mural on that wall – I can’t have that huge wall big and blank, I can’t put a small sign on there because it looks odd, so I have to do something to that wall.”

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