POCATELLO — Many business owners and advertisers voiced their dissent to the proposed changes to city code around billboards and electronic signs.
Changes to the Pocatello city sign ordinance would apply to billboards and electronic signage. They would limit the hours in the night when signs could be illuminated and ban the construction of new billboards.
“This has to be business-friendly. Our existing code is fine,” said Frank Nuding, a commercial realtor.
In total, only one citizen spoke in favor of the changes, while 15 others from a variety of backgrounds spoke against them.
People objected to the changes because, they said, it would make it harder for businesses to advertise. Some speakers felt it violated their right to commercial speech. Others said the survey results supporting the ordinance didn’t accurately represent the public’s views.
At the end of the meeting, Commission Chairperson Krystal Chanda said there was still further discussion to be had. She said the public hearing will continue at their next meeting on December 13.
“It’s very apparent to me that there’s a lot of things that still need to be addressed here,” Chanda said. “You guys will have time to ask more questions, provide more comments.”
Once the public hearing is officially closed, the Planning and Zoning Commission will vote on whether to send the proposed changes to the City Council with a ‘pass’ or a ‘do not pass’ recommendation. The city council will make the final vote on whether the changes are adopted.
Jim Anglesey, Long Range Senior Planner and Jennifer Flynn, the Assistant Planner, both agreed the Planning and Zoning Division would likely make changes to the proposed ordinance, based on the comments they heard in the public hearing.
Thomas Klein was the only person to speak in favor of the proposed changes. He said he’s had a problem with the city’s billboards for years and has been writing letters to try and have something done, so he was “delighted” the changes were being considered.
“I feel that those sorts of things really make life less pleasant here,” Klein said.
Gage Barker, owner of Molinelli’s Jewelers in Pocatello, said the changes would limit his ability to advertise to traffic that wouldn’t normally drive past his storefront. Barker pointed out how the waiting list to get on billboards in Pocatello is around two years long.
“One could not only say there’s a high demand for billboards for businesses in Pocatello, but perhaps that there may not even be enough (billboards),” Barker said.
Kirk Lepchenske, Membership Manager of the Pocatello/Chubbuck Chamber of Commerce, read a letter on behalf of the chamber’s president, Matt Hunter. The chamber does not endorse the proposed changes to the sign ordinance.
“The last four years have been tough for the business community in general, but have been devastating for the small business retail community,” Hunter said in his written comments. The chamber has seen “so many” small businesses close their doors in that time.
“Any new restrictions that hamper this community’s ability to reach customers will only make the situation worse,” he said.
Some of the speakers criticized the proposed changes as an infringement on commercial speech.
“The proposed amendment appears to be an attempt by the city to impose regulations on commercial speech, which is a protected class of speech,” said Rob Kirkham, a real estate developer.
Nuding and some others said they didn’t believe the results of a survey, sent out from December 2022 to February 2023, accurately represent the views of the community. While the majority of respondents said they disliked pole signs, billboards and electronic message displays, speakers at the meeting pointed out that just under 400 people filled it out.
“Banning commercial speech in this way based on the results of a single survey with fewer than 400 participants does not serve a specific or significant governmental interest,” Rob Kirkham said.
Chanda pointed out that while the number of people who took the survey sounds low, it’s a normal number of people to respond to a city survey.