Gallatin Canyon Billboard

A billboard owned by Saunders Outdoor Advertising displays multiple advertisements along Gallatin Road on Wednesday in Gallatin Canyon.

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A long-running dispute over an illuminated billboard in Gallatin Canyon has entered a new chapter.

The compliance department determined this week that the Saunders Outdoor Advertising sign at 64070 Gallatin Road follows the area’s zoning regulations and can remain. The department’s decision comes in response to complaints that nearby landowners submitted this fall.

The nearby landowners are now considering appealing the department’s decision because they were not spoken to as part of its investigation, said Ron Young, a vocal opponent of the illuminated billboard.

Saunders Outdoor Advertising didn’t respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Nine landowners submitted complaints to the compliance department after the sign, which had been unlit for some time, was illuminated in October. It has remained lit since, Young said.

In their complaints, the landowners said the sign projects light onto the surrounding cliffs, the roadway and the night sky — a violation of the area’s zoning regulations, a public safety issue and a problem for wildlife.

“The lighted sign impacts a number of residential properties by creating a bright, lighted area, which is offensive to the neighborhood … by creating additional hazards to both humans and wildlife,” Dave and Julie Jackson wrote to the compliance department.

Ann Van Den Eeden told the county she spoke to the state Department of Revenue, which said nearby property values can be reviewed now that the sign is illuminated.

“I know you only care about money, so now you should care because Gallatin County will get less tax money,” she wrote. “Gallatin County commissioners hear this; you are letting money slip away from our county and into the hands of a company from Utah.”

In response to the complaints, compliance officer Megan Gibson said she reviewed the North Gallatin Canyon zoning regulations, visited the sign and took note of its size and lighting to determine Saunders Outdoor Advertising is following county rules.

Anyone can appeal Gibson’s decision to the Consolidated Board of Adjustment, a group appointed by the county commission, within 30 days.

If the board receives an appeal, it will hold a public hearing at which Gibson and the parties appealing will present their cases and the public will have an opportunity to speak. The board will then issue a decision. The board’s decision can be appealed to Gallatin County District Court.

The dispute over the Gallatin Canyon billboard has been going on for a number of years. In 2009, the county established zoning regulations for North Gallatin Canyon, which banned billboards in the area but allowed the Saunders sign to remain until 2019.

In 2012, the county compliance department learned the billboard hadn’t been illuminated for about a year, which it said meant the sign was no longer exempt from the 2009 zoning regulations and couldn’t be illuminated again.

Saunders Outdoor Advertising appealed the compliance department’s decision to the Consolidated Board of Adjustment, which also determined the company could no longer light the sign.

Then in 2014, Saunders appealed the board’s decision to District Court.

Last year, the county commissioners decided to allow the illuminated sign to remain lit, resolving the 2014 lawsuit. Nearby landowners criticized the decision, saying the commissioners were violating the commitment they had made to remove the billboard in 2019.

“We no longer had an avenue to turn the billboard off,” Young said. “But it remains a major problem.”

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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