Gallatin Canyon Billboard

A billboard stands along the road March 11 in Gallatin Canyon.

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Gallatin Canyon residents are preparing to sue Gallatin County over a billboard.

The residents have missed the deadline to appeal to the county’s consolidated board of adjustment regarding the compliance department’s decision that the Saunders Outdoor Advertising sign at 64070 Gallatin Road adheres to the area’s zoning regulations.

They now plan to take the compliance department’s decision to Gallatin County District Court, said canyon resident Ian Macconnachie. They are looking to environmental groups for help with the lawsuit as they are struggling to find a lawyer who will take their case.

Macconnachie mailed a request for appeal to the consolidated board of adjustment, a group appointed by the county commissioners, one day after the 30-day appeal window closed.

Compliance officer Megan Gibson said the county received the request a few days later and denied it because it came after the deadline. The only option left for residents is to appeal to District Court.

“We struggled to navigate the appeals process, especially with everything closed,” Macconnachie said. “During the pandemic, we feel there should have been an extension granted just as many other government deadlines have been extended.”

Macconnachie is among several canyon residents who sent a complaint to the compliance department in the fall after the billboard, which had been unlit for some time, was illuminated in October.

In their complaint, the residents said the sign lit up the surrounding cliffs, the highway and the night sky in violation of the area’s zoning regulations. They also said the lights posed a hazard to drivers and were a problem for wildlife.

To investigate the complaint, Gibson said she reviewed the North Gallatin Canyon Zoning Regulations and visited the sign.

“They are trying to stop us from being a squeaky wheel,” Macconnachie said. “They are trying to avoid a lawsuit with Saunders at all costs.”

Saunders Outdoor Advertising couldn’t be reached for comment.

The fight over the billboard has gone on for years.

In 2009, the county developed the zoning regulations for North Gallatin Canyon, which included a ban on billboards but allowed the Saunders’ sign to stay until 2019.

In 2012, the compliance department discovered the sign hadn’t been illuminated for about a year, which the department said meant the sign was no longer exempt from the 2009 regulations and couldn’t be lit again. Saunders Outdoor Advertising appealed the department’s ruling to the consolidated board of adjustment, which upheld the decision that the sign couldn’t be illuminated again.

In 2014, Saunders took its case to District Court.

The county commissioners decided in 2019 to let the sign remain and be illuminated, resolving the 2014 lawsuit.

Canyon residents now say the way the sign is lit violates the area’s zoning regulations.

They are also looking into buying the sign and removing it themselves, which may be difficult as Saunders or the landowner leasing the property might be unwilling to give it up. Despite the possible roadblocks, Macconnachie said he remains hopeful about a purchase.

“What if we didn’t look at this as a fight but as a cooperation,” he said.

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

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