The city of Rexburg will hold a public hearing on April 15 concerning the height of business signs on U.S. Highway 20.
A divided city council sent an ordinance back to the planning and zoning commission during its March 17 meeting. The council contested whether to deny the ordinance or send it back to Planning and Zoning for revision during the meeting, ultimately being left to Mayor Jerry Merrill's vote to send it back for revision.
The proposed change to the city’s development code would raise the maximum sign height limit for signs in the interchange areas on Highway 20 from 50 feet to 70 feet.
Matt Berry, part owner of Berry Oil, submitted the proposed change to the city’s Community Development Department. In his proposal, he said the reason for the change was to provide equal opportunity for businesses on the same highway interchange to have equal visibility opportunity to travelers on Highway 20.
Berry spoke with the city council during its March 17 meeting. He said his business is at a disadvantage because of a lack of visibility with his sign compared to his competition, a Conoco station, across the Highway 20 and University Boulevard interchange
“We just want to make sure we have a fair shake of business,” Berry said. “I don’t think that anyone takes me serious when I say it is a detriment to my business when I’m 20 feet under my competition on the same exit.”
Conoco’s sign was built at 64 feet tall before the city created an ordinance that put limits on sign heights in the city and was grandfathered in as an exception, along with the McDonald’s sign on that exit. The city council passed an ordinance on June 17, 2020 that raised the maximum height of signs near highway interchanges from 40 feet to 50 feet.
Council members Jordan Busby, Mikel Walker, and Brad Wolfe said they were in favor of increasing the maximum sign height. Council members Tisha Flora, Bryanna Johnson, and Chris Mann said they wanted to keep sign heights at 50 feet.
The ordinance would allow businesses to put signs as tall as 70 feet, 1,500 feet away from all three Highway 20 interchanges in Rexburg. Council members opposed to passing the ordinance expressed concern of the potential consequences of passing an ordinance that was tailored for Berry Oil and how it would affect the other interchanges in the city.
Johnson said that this ordinance would allow businesses such as Maverik to put signs up at 70 feet on Pioneer Road, which has several residential areas near it.
“We’re not trying to disadvantage anybody,” Flora said. “We’re not just looking at this one piece of property here.”
Council members in favor of the ordinance said they didn’t mind the additional 20 feet that would be given to sign heights and it was important for business owners to feel like they could fairly compete.
“I feel like our job is to promote growth and economic development in the city,” Busby said. “I drive by that Conoco sign every day and I never pay attention to it.”
Stephen Zollinger, city attorney, said during the meeting that the community has been historically opposed to increasing the height of signs near the highway.
A former planning and zoning chair, Winston Dyer, sent a letter to the planning and zoning commission to provide input on the proposed change. Dyer saw a similar situation when he served as chair and was met with overwhelming community opposition, he wrote.
“The response from the residents was clear and significant that people wanted to see the number of signs held to a minimum if possible, and that sign sizes be limited so as to not create a distraction or draw undue attention. Citizens wanted others to see the beauty of our community and not have their attention focused on signage and commercial ventures,” Dyer wrote.
The council sent the ordinance back to the planning and zoning commission with guidance to further consider reducing the affected radius and maximum height allowed for signs.
The public hearing is scheduled at 6:45 p.m., April 15 at City Hall. The city will accept written comments at City Hall before 4:00 p.m. on April 14.