Sign rules cruel Bilpin orchards and food outlets

Sam Ramaci from the Cottage which sells apple pies, Shelley and Matilda Julian, Banjo and Neville Julian with two of their three signs. Picture: Geoff Jones
Sam Ramaci from the Cottage which sells apple pies, Shelley and Matilda Julian, Banjo and Neville Julian with two of their three signs. Picture: Geoff Jones

AFTER the Gazette posted a story last week about Bilpin businesses being told to take in their road signs, the huge response on Facebook included comments by the mayor and two councillors, and a notice of motion to be considered for the next Council meeting. 

The story focused on Bilpin orchardists Neville and Shelley Julian who said a visit from Council last month was “one of the last straws” leading them to say that on September 1, their property will be on the market.

The couple, who have had their apple and cherry orchard for 33 years, said they’ve also had to weather the Federal government’s ban on fruit fly sprays Lebaycid and Rogor resulting in the first cases of fruit fly in their cherries in 30 years.

Mr Julian is also still suffering from the effects of not being able to work for nine months after a brain haemorrhage last year.

A Council officer visited Bilpin businesses on Monday, March 20, telling them there had been a complaint about roadside signs and that they had to take theirs down. 

Mr Julian said they had three professionally done signs – one outside the business and the other two staggered on the roadside to alert drivers that there was a business ahead.

“We asked permission of the neighbours whose properties the signs are outside of, and the signs are about 2.5-3m away from the road, but we were told to pull them out by 5pm that day or face a $500 fine,” he said.

He said they have the public liability insurance for their signs stipulated by Council. 

“Our signs are there for two reasons – to inform potential customers our fruit stall is ‘just over the hill’ and to warn drivers that the vehicle in front might be pulling over,” he said. 

He said in 1980 there were 80 orchards in Bilpin but now there were only 10, all of which rely to some extent on direct fruit sales. He said their prices though are the same as they were 20 years ago, “which shows how return to growers has diminished”. 

“Hawkesbury City Council should be encouraging the remaining orchards, not hindering us.

“Bilpin itself is a tourist precinct. We’ve got four wedding venues, eight food outlets, eight fruit sales outlets, five pick-your-own orchards and three cellar doors between Glenara Road and Mount Tomah. Thousands of people come here every weekend. Council is harassing us for no reason.

“In the last year or two half the orchards west of the river have gone or are going on the market, including ours.”

He mentioned three other orchards on the market. One had 12,000 trees which he said will be pushed out. 

“There’s no money in orchards.” 

Mr Julian said his was one of the few orchards where you can get original Pink Ladies.The Julians contract a Tasmanian nursery to grow the trees for their five-acre orchard.  He said a lot of places are selling other varieties under that name. 

Sam Ramaci took a break from apple-pie making to come to the photo shoot. He said he received a letter from Council saying to remove his two signs.

“I said one was on private property,” he said. “They said they would get back to me about it but they haven’t.”

He said having no signs immediately affects business. “It’s amazing when the signs are not there – straight away you get less business.

“We want to warn people so they’re not braking at the last minute.

“We just want to make a living.”

Council staff’s response

When the Gazette asked Council what the current rules were, Council’s manager of environment and regulatory services Emmanuel Isbester dropped a bombshell.

“If business operators request it, Council can look into developing a signage policy for businesses around the Bilpin area to provide more guidance,” he said.

When the Gazette asked Mr Julian if that would change his mind about leaving, he said “I’m staggered! Why haven’t they told us? It’s too late for me because of my brain haemorrhage. But if they are willing to work with us, there are a lot of people who would be grateful for the chance to work with Council.”

Mr Isbester said the problem was that “some businesses were placing pallets, timber crates, star pickets and other items adjacent to the road which caused an obstruction and a danger to road users’ safety while pulling onto the shoulder of the road”.

“Proliferation of signage in such areas can often cause a distraction to motorists, resulting in accidents,” he said. “The driver of a motor vehicle is responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle.”

Councillors weigh in

On the Gazette Facebook page posting of the online Bilpin sign story Councillor Danielle Wheeler responsed “we are as concerned as you all are”. “We will urgently review the policy to balance traffic safety concerns and laws with the needs of businesses and customers. Roadside stalls and the signs that go with them are part of the charm of Bilpin and the Hawkesbury.”

Mayor Mary Lyons Buckett responded on the Facebook post as well, saying Council must review its current signage policy to make sure it “both supports businesses and ensures community safety”. “We will do this as soon as possible,” she said.

Councillor Nathan Zamprogno told the Gazette on Monday that he had emailed all councillors on Good Friday regarding a business which had received a weighty fine for its sign, saying Council’s treatment of the Bilpin businesses was not good enough.

He said “I've formulated a notice of motion for Council to consider at our next meeting”. “It calls on Council to formulate a signage policy and I'm making inquiries about the legality of suspending enforcement or revoking current fines.” 

What are the rules?

Mr Isbester said there were two pieces of legislation which governed signs – the Hawkesbury Local Environmental Plan 2012 and the Hawkesbury Development Control Plan 2002. 

He said the DCP could be varied “based on the merits of the proposal” but the LEP couldn’t be varied. The LEP says signs can’t be on land zoned for roads or on a property not associated with the business.

He said the DCP specifies that appropriate signs for rural areas is restricted to one sign per property, not higher than 2.5m above ground and no greater in size than 0.75sqm in area.

Currently A-frame signs are not permissible by the road in a rural area and neither are signs on trailers.

Businesses have to lodge a DA unless the sign they propose is exempt, and they have to take out public liability insurance to cover themselves and Council to the turn of $5 million.

“For all signage queries it is suggested that people contact planning staff at Council for guidance with signage legislation relevant to their specific case.”