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Electronic billboard sparks contention

By Kaitlin Loukides
Published On: Jun 03 2013 07:38:40 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 03 2013 07:41:05 PM CDT

electronic billboard lights controversy

POCATELLO, Idaho -

If you have driven up the I-15 right by the Pocatello Creek Road exit recently, chances are you have seen the new electronic billboard sitting along the interstate.

Homeowners in the neighborhood such as Steve Walker are outraged, saying the sign is obstructing their backyard view of the city and lights-up the nighttime sky when they are trying to sleep.

"I think the issue is pretty straightforward," Walker said. "You look out my kitchen window and it is the brightest thing out there and even when it is dark, it dwarfs the skyline of Pocatello."

So, Walker decided to look into the situation.

Although the billboard is owned by Riverbend Communications, Grace Lutheran Church fought to put the sign up. Walker believes the church is working in contract with Riverbend Communications in order to received monetary compensation from the company by allowing the sign to be situated there.

In a statement released by Riverbend Communications, representatives from the company said in an e-mail: "We want to be good neighbors and work with any of their concerns. We have worked with them and continue to do so."

Riverbend Communications received a permit from the Idaho Department of Transportation and the city of Pocatello to build the sign in that location, which also happens to be within city limits.

The city's planning and zoning office said Riverbend had to receive the permit solely through ITD and the county's planning and zoning department. 

However, the county's planning and zoning department, ITD, and Riverbend all confirmed the city has jurisdiction over permitting these signs if in fact it is to be placed within city limits.

The city's legal department had not returned my calls.

ITD said the only way Grace Lutheran would be allowed to erect the electronic billboard, would be if they complied with the strict state signage laws. After many attempts and even a court hearing later, Grace Lutheran finally met the requirements and the sign went up in early May.

ITD's Chuck Heisler said the church needed to be considered a commercial operation before it complied with the regulations. Although the city and ITD have slightly different requirements for sign usage, the city concluded the church is, in fact, considered a commercial operation since it opened a daycare center on the church's premises.

Heisler said he did, in fact, go to the church and said the daycare center is legitimate and up and running.

Walker said none of the ads on the sign have anything to do with the daycare center.

Sifting through nearly 50 pages of research and copies of both the city and state's sign code laws and a copy of the approved permit, Walker said he just wants to see some laws changed that will tighten the rules on putting electronic signs up near residential areas and would also close the loopholes that had been forged during this situation.

"They (the electronic billboards) are not permitted in other communities and rightfully so, " Walker said. "So, why do we have one here?"

Heisler said there are some new rules ITD will be drafting to propose in front of the Attorney General's office. Once they are looked over there, they will be passed in front of the state legislature during the upcoming legislative session.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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