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Giant B.C. Place screen city's 'Eye of Mordor'

Area residents blindsided by light

How would you feel if someone stuck a giant spotlight in front of your home, and projected a flickering beam through your living room window into the twilight hours, and sometimes into early morning? You might feel like a stalked Hollywood celebrity, or you might feel like David Cookson, a resident of the downtown core who has been agitating for the removal/relocation of an immense, high-definition LED video screen from the exterior of B.C. Place. He says the advertisement billboard has been disrupting the quality of life of nearby residents, a claim echoed by Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs, who has received a number of complaints from locals.

I took a trip downtown last Sunday night to meet under the giant screen with Cookson, a 40-year-old environmental consultant for a local sustainability firm. He has set up Facebook site, Take Down the Giant Screen Now, to give a voice and a forum to residents. Although he does not live as close as others to Terry Fox Plaza, his apartmentfive blocks away on Richards and Nelsonis in the line of sight of the screen. An emailed photo from his home shows a backlit corridor of buildings, and the glaring screen with the time stamp of 7:51, Oct. 7.

Eye of Mordor would not be an inappropriate description of the image.

Cookson and his wife, who purchased their apartment last November, werent the only ones blindsided by PavCos commercial installation. Vancouver city hall was also taken by surprise. Late in September, city manager Penny Ballem told council that the city had no idea PavCo was erecting the structure by Terry Fox Plaza until she toured the site.

The official line is that there is little civic officials can do because B.C. place is provincial property and PavCo doesnt require permits for signage. For its part, the provincial government has kept mum.

This is not an issue about urban aesthetics to Cookson. Its about continuously flashing advertisements lighting up home interiors. He notes that glass condo is the signature architecture in Vancouvera structural way of dealing with the citys deficit of natural light. Throw in a three-story light source in the downtown core, and theres going to be problems. Adding insult to luminosity, Cooksons glass-walled building is governed by bylaws that limit visual alterations to units. We cant change the window dressing, it would mean changing strata laws to put up blackout blinds. What does that mean? Does that mean we have to barricade ourselves in our homes?

Responding to the complaints, PavCo has decided to turn the screen off at 7 p.m., while exempting major stadium event nights. That last proviso does not satisfy the environmental consultant, however. So this sign remains lit on major event nights, which means all the Whitecaps games, all the B.C. Lions games, every music concert, every tractor pull; anytime they decide something is a major event theyre holding us hostage in our homes. Its absurd.

A City of Vancouver bylaw unambiguously states, the illumination for any sign shall not create a direct glare upon any surrounding site, street or lane. Thats the law in this city, Cookson says, and the province has said, too bad for you, we dont care. As he says this, I turn around and watch the building envelopes opposite Terry Fox Plaza light up in concert with the changing ads (I met with Cookson at 6:30, and the sign went off at 7 p.m.).

Its perfectly obvious to this neighbourhood that if PavCo wanted less flashing advertising in our homes, they would have bought a smaller screen and pointed it in a different direction. He says hed be satisfied if the company removed and repositioned the screen to a location that is not facing residential homes.

An error becomes a mistake when you refuse to correct it, the Facebook activist insists. His online group is considering legal options, and he hopes they dont have to exercise them. Its going to get costly for the province if they have to pay us damages for nuisance and damages for loss in property value. As you can imagine, none of these places are saleable anymore. Would you want to live in one of them?

Probably not.

More on this topic next week.