UPDATE--- 4/7/20 3:30 p.m.

After speaking with city officials, KGVO learned that a competing car dealership issued the complaint about the balloons, and after the first call asking the dealership to take them down, they received a second complaint. It was after the second complaint by a competing car dealer that the warning about the $500 per day fine was stated. (KGVO News)

 

Missoula Nissan Hyundai General Sales Manager Scott Peterson had a great idea on Saturday, to put up some balloons on the lot and brighten up the mood during this depressing time of coronavirus and shutdowns.

It wasn’t long, though, before city hall got involved.

“Everybody’s just trying to do whatever they can to make things better,” said Peterson. “So, at our Saturday morning sales meeting we decided to put some balloons up. We put about 12 balloons up. We know it’s against the sign code, but we thought maybe, just maybe they’ll leave everybody alone right now. Well, they were up for about an hour and we got a phone call saying if we didn’t take them down then they were going to fine us $500 a day. Well, we took them down, but it really stuck in a lot of people that this is just not right.”

Peterson questioned the threat of a fine when small businesses all over Montana are doing everything they can to stay open get people in the door.

“Right now, really?,” he asked. “Businesses are just doing anything and everything to keep people on staff, keep the doors open and pay the rent. Just relax, that’s all we were trying to get across.”

Peterson said the ‘no balloons’ part of the sign ordinance has been in effect for many years.

“The sign ordinance in Missoula is very archaic and extremely limiting,” he said. “I seriously doubt that there’s a car dealership around that hasn’t had a visit of a phone call from the old sign code enforcement people. That’s pretty much all they do is drive around looking for people who are violating their rules.”

Peterson said he would guess there’s a large number of Missoula citizens who would oppose such an ordinance.

“I think what happens is that a small percentage of the population makes rules, and the vast majority doesn’t necessarily agree with them, but they are the silent majority, unfortunately.”

Peterson said he turned to social media to get his point across.

“Frustratingly, I put out a Facebook post and I vented against the city and our mayor on my personal Facebook page, and the post went incredibly viral,” he said. “Within 24 hours it was shared over 800 times and I had over 5,000 comments, I’ve tried to read all of them, and I can say that over 99 percent were in support of what we’re trying to do with comments like ‘keep your chin up’, and ‘keep fighting’. I think in all those comments there were only a few that said ‘well, you knew the rules', but the vast majority are telling people just to lay off small business right now. That’s really the point I wanted to get across that without these small businesses then none of us has a job, none of us. So, let’s just relax a little bit right now.”

Here is the exact ordinance that was violated by the balloons:

20.75.030 - Prohibited Signs and Sign Characteristics

  1. Inflatable sign s, any sign that moves or gives the appearance of moving, and any sign which flutters, undulates, swings, rotates, oscillates or otherwise moves by natural or artificial means, including balloons, flags, pennants, streamers, spinners or other types of  wind sign s, except national and governmental subdivision flags as noted in 20.75.040.G;

KGVO has called the city of Missoula and requested an interview with an official who can explain the balloon ordinance.