City council opened up its eyes and saw a sign this week.
A passionate proposal by a local business owner convinced council to go against staff recommendations and approve the new roadside sign.
Northern Electric had applied for a bylaw variance to allow them to put up a 12.19 metre animated sign alongside Highway 16 beside their Versatile Place business at the base of Peden Hill.
At Monday night's meeting, acting director of planning Ian Wells presented a report recommending council deny the application.
Northern Electric co-owner Darcy Espenhain made an impassioned plea for the $200,000 project.
"It's going to be a statement to Prince George. People will speak of this sign, I promise you," he said, noting it would also be used for community messaging.
The sign bylaw limits the maximum height of a freestanding sign to nine metres and doesn't allow animated signs (like the ones at Finish Line Auto Care on Victoria Street, at CN Centre or on Great Street at Highway 97 South) in areas zoned for business industrial.
"The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has expressed safety concerns. It does not support nuisance lights near the highway," said Wells. "It distracts the drivers who could potentially be a safety concern for the travelling public."
Nicole Bryant, presenting to council on behalf of Hazelwood Signs for Northern Electric, said she didn't believe the level of distraction would be that significant for the sign, which would be viewable to both east and westbound drivers.
"I don't think it would be be any more of a distraction that other drivers on the road or anything else that might be happening off to the other side," she said.
Bryant also noted that signs of the same type are allowed in areas zoned for commercial use, adjacent to Northern Electric's property.
"So in other words, if they were to put their sign on the other side of the property line, it would be perfectly fine and we wouldn't be here," Coun. Cameron Stolz said.
Members of council who initially expressed reservation over the animation given the staff report found themselves leaning the other way when it came time to vote.
"I kept an open mind but I was sort of leaning towards saying no and following through with what highway's recommendation was," said Coun. Dave Wilbur, before he noted the presenter's passion and that he wasn't convinced there was enough of a case made for driver distraction.
Coun. Lyn Hall said his issues were with the proximity to the highway and the intersection of Highway 16 West, Vance and Cowart Roads. An ICBC report had identified this intersection as having the ninth-most collisions in Prince George between 2006 and 2010.
"But Coun. Stolz brings up an interesting factor around the proximity to the zoned property on the other side," Hall said. "If we were east of the building, there would in fact be the opportunity for the zoning to allow that type of signage."
Wells cautioned that allowing the change would be setting a precedent and opening the door to other animated sign applications in the area, but the application was approved. Councillors Garth Frizzell, Murry Krause and Mayor Shari Green dissented.