Business owners, advertisers and developers are speaking out against changes to city sign regulations

POCATELLO – Many business owners and advertisers have voiced their opposition to proposed changes to city code surrounding billboards and electronic boards.

Changes to the Pocatello city sign ordinance will apply to billboards and electronic boards. They would limit the hours that signs can be illuminated at night and prohibit the construction of new billboards.

“It should be good for business. Our current code is fine,” said commercial realtor Frank Nuding.

In total, only one citizen spoke in favor of the changes, and 15 citizens from different classes spoke against it.

People protested the changes because they said it would make it harder for businesses to advertise. Some speakers felt this violated their commercial speech rights. Others said polls supporting the ordinance did not accurately reflect public opinion.

At the end of the meeting, the Chairman of the Commission, Kristal Chanda, said that discussions will still be held. According to him, the public hearing will be continued at their next meeting on December 13.

“It’s very clear to me that there’s still a lot that needs to be done here,” Chanda said. “You will have time to ask more questions, to make more comments.”

After 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 “no pass” recommendation. The city council will have the final vote on whether to accept the changes.

Chief Long Range Planner Jim Anglesey and Associate Planner Jennifer Flynn both agreed that the Planning and Zoning Department would amend the proposed ordinance based on comments they heard at the public hearing.

Thomas Klein was the only person to speak in favor of the proposed changes. He said the city has had problems with billboards for years and has been writing letters asking for something to be done, so he’s “glad” the changes are being considered.

“I feel like these kinds of things really make life here less pleasant,” Klein said.

Gage Barker, owner of Molinelli’s Jewelers in Pocatello, said the changes will limit his ability to advertise to traffic that doesn’t drive past his storefront. Barker pointed out that the waiting list for billboard space in Pocatello is nearly two years long.

“Not only is there a high demand for business billboards in Pocatello, but there may not be enough (billboards),” Barker said.

Pocatello/Chubbuck Chamber of Commerce Membership Manager Kirk Lepchenske read a letter on behalf of chamber president Matt Hunter. The House does not support the proposed changes to the signing order.

“The last four years have been difficult for the business community in general, but devastating for the small business retail community,” Hunter said in written comments. The chamber has seen “many” small businesses close their doors in that time.

“Any new restrictions that hinder this community’s ability to reach customers will only make things worse,” he said.

Some of the speakers criticized the proposed changes as infringing 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 real estate developer Rob Kirkham.

Nuding and others said they did not believe the results of the survey, which was sent between December 2022 and February 2023, accurately represented the public’s views. Although the majority of respondents said they did not like the pole boards, billboards and electronic message screens, those who spoke at the meeting noted that fewer than 400 people filled it.

“Based on a survey of fewer than 400 participants, this ban on commercial speech does not serve a specific or significant government interest,” said Rob Kirkham.

Chanda noted that although the number of people who participated in the survey was small, the number of people who responded to the city survey was normal.

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