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Pocatello city council votes down proposed changes to city sign code

It’s been an on-going issue in Pocatello for several months – the question of allowing new billboards.

It started when a proposal to add a new billboard in Pocatello sparked outrage from several residents and caused many to speak out against billboards.

In response, the city issued a temporary moratorium on all new billboards. Now, the council has some proposed changes to its city signage code.

The changes are to only allow new billboards in the place of taking down an existing one, and that off premises signs/billboards will only be allowed on specified corridors, and off-premises signs/billboards will not be closer than 1,000 feet to a residential area.

Thursday night, the council held a public hearing on these changes. After a lengthy discussion with both sides of the issue, the city council voted to not approve the proposed changes as written.

The council felt it wanted to look at some other options for changes to the code and do more research before adopting an ordinance. So they voted down the changes to have discussions with sign owners and businesses, as well as other community members. The council hoped this will give them a better idea of what they want to do moving forward, and the changes to the city’s sign code will likely be revisited at a later city council session.

With the city council voting down the changes to the code, it means the current moratorium on new billboards will remain in effect until its expiration at the end of the month – on November 30th.

Opponents to the changes feel the proposed changes are unconstitutional and would violate the right of free speech. Local businesses and sign companies came together at city hall Thursday night before the city council meeting to rally together to oppose the changes to the city’s sign code.

They believe the proposed changes would have a negative effect on businesses and on economic growth for Pocatello.

“We understand that there probably are some revisions that probably need to be made. But what they’re proposing is just so extreme,” said Nicki Johnson, co-owner of Blaze Sign Company. “The banning of off-premise advertising is a big mistake. I mean, we’ve got new businesses we’re trying to attract. What’s going to happen once they find out that their neighbor, that you can’t put a sign there to advertise and let them know, ‘Hey we’re in the neighborhood. Here’s what we can offer.'”

“I think digital signage is important for any city to grow because that is how you can grow your business,” said Sanju Choudhury, with Jeeves Ads. “The businesses can advertise their products, their needs, and possibly that they need to hire some people. That is how they advertise.”

“What we would like to see is a working group of concerned citizens, business owners, sign business owners, to work together with planning and zoning and the city council and come to a meeting of the minds that will help the community rather than hinder it,” said Rick Millward, project manager with Blaze Sign Company.

Some who spoke in favor of the changes, meaning they want to see more limitations with billboards, argued that they are bright, distracting for drivers, ruin the aesthetics of Pocatello and make it too much like Las Vegas or downtown Tokyo, and argue there’s not enough public benefit to the use of billboards.

As for some of those concerns, such as the brightness of electronic billboards, or offensive content going up, Millward said they believe the current sign code does cover for that.

“All of these things are violations of the existing code and they could be corrected through code enforcement rather than banning than banning the whole industry – the off-premise signs,” Millward said.

Choudhury said as for the brightness issue, which many seem to feel is the biggest concern, sign owners and companies can work together to come to an agreement on that. There are a lot of ways to lower that brightness, or even possibly turn them off at night.

Those against the proposed changes feel there is middle ground on this issue and hope the city council can help reach that.

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