Scenic Nevada Update: Planning Commission Public Hearing | Scenic America
Scenic Nevada Update: Planning Commission Public Hearing

What: Item 5.4 Jacobs Seeks Digital Casino Sign for Glow Plaza

Where: Reno City Council Chambers, One East First Street

When: Wednesday, February 1, 2023, starting at 6 p.m.

Planning Commissioners Could Make Final Decision

Casino owner and land developer Jeff Jacobs will ask Reno planning commissioners Wednesday to allow his Glow Plaza business to advertise on his giant digital Sands casino sign, when completed, as a ploy to circumvent the city’s digital billboard regulations.

The Glow Plaza is meant to get the same type and size signs on its property as any other business in the mixed use Fourth Street corridor, under Reno sign regulations. Instead, Jacobs wants an amended conditional use permit from the city to allow the Glow Plaza to advertise his festival events on his mega digital casino signs, to be located down the street from the festival venue.

Let the Commissioners know that Jacobs shouldn’t get special treatment. Click here to go to the meeting portal. Then scroll down to Planning Commission and click on the agenda for ways to write, call or participate in the hearing. If approved, and no one appeals, the planning commission’s decision is final.

Giant Digital Sign Approved for Fourth Street

The city approved a sign permit last fall, allowing the Sands two digital signs to advertise only the Sands events. The permit was reviewed by city planning and building officials. No community notice or public hearing is required to erect casino signs.

According to the approved permit application, the largest sign will be 4,242 square feet and built high up on the north-facing façade set back from Fourth Street. As a comparison, the giant GSR digital casino sign that has irked residents for years, is 4,135 square feet at 44 feet wide and 94 feet tall.

The other digital Sand’s sign is 2,631 square feet and will wrap around the Sands building closer to Arlington Street where the Mel’s Diner sign was located. See photo. Combined value is $5 million, according to the sign application.

drawing of sign

Using Jacobs’ permit amendment application rendering, we darkened the Sands buildings to highlight the placement of the signs.

According to the sign permit conditions, approved in November, the city says, “please note the digital displays can only advertise onsite activity.”

Apparently, that’s why Jacobs is requesting the planning commission approve a conditional use permit amendment that would expand the Glow Plaza’s boundaries to include the Sands property. Using this trick, Jacobs is hoping he’ll be able to legally advertise the Glow Plaza festival events on his big casino signs. Reno’s sign code would limit the Glow Plaza to a 35-foot tall, digital flashing and animated sign not to exceed 125 square feet. According to our calculations the Sands sign is about 33 times larger than what the Glow Plaza would be allowed under normal circumstances.

“The Applicant (Jacobs) requests approval of this conditional use permit to expand the Glow Plaza permit boundary to include the Sands parcel to allow on-premises signage to promote the approved Glow Plaza on the Sand’s display boards …,” according to Jacobs’ application letter for the proposed permit.

The Proposed Permit Poses Issues With Reno’s Sign Code

An approval of the conditional use permit amendment would give the Glow Plaza advertising exposure that no one else has.  No non-casino business can advertise on a giant digital casino sign.

Further, by the city’s own sign code definitions, advertising the Glow Plaza events a block away at the Sands changes the legal onsite casino sign into a digital billboard. And digital billboards are prohibited in Reno under the sign code.

Changing the boundaries doesn’t change the definition of a billboard. Changing the boundaries also doesn’t cure the legal issue – that under the law, only properties with gaming uses can have the large gaming signs in a mixed-use zone.

“Legally established Nonrestricted Gaming Operation land uses may use Gaming Overlay district sign requirements,” in the mixed-use zones, according to Footnote 11 of the city’s sign code chart. There is no exception for any other business. The Glow Plaza is a festival venue in a mixed-use zone, not an approved gaming site and therefore by law can’t use a gaming sign to advertise.

Those Gaming Overlay signs strictly for casino use come with barely any restrictions. They are allowed to be 100 feet tall (even taller with approval of a conditional use permit) and there are no limits on the number, size, lighting and animation, which means the Sands’ 4,241 square foot sign can flash, blink, scroll and display video, just like the GSR sign does today.  By contrast, a roadside billboard is limited to 672 square feet and digital lighting is prohibited, except for billboards owned by the tribes.

The signs are not only big but can be unreasonably bright. The Reno Sign Code says digitals can have a nighttime brightness level of 1,500 nits. The higher number of nits, the brighter the sign.  According to its website, the International Dark Skies Association recommends 80 nits in an urban setting at night.

Both Mega Signs Could Be Used by The Glow Plaza

At a recent Ward 1 Neighborhood Advisory Meeting, a Jacobs representative said the proposed CUP merely fulfilled a neighborhood request to notify residents of upcoming events and would be scrolled on the smaller of the two digital casino signs. Sounds innocent, except the city only required the Glow Plaza to post its website on its own Glow Plaza signs, where residents could find a schedule of events.

“Prior to site activity, the applicant shall demonstrate that the required signage includes a website address which provides a schedule of upcoming events,” according to the City’s original approval letter to Jacobs. We doubt that anyone in the neighborhood envisioned mega digital signs at the Sands for event notification, instead of sign at the Glow Plaza itself.

Also, there’s nothing in the application request that limits the advertising to the smaller of the two digital signs at the Sands.

The city’s planning staff has recommended approval of the proposed permit, saying changing the Glow Plaza boundaries to include the Sands property makes everything okay. “If the parcel with the Sands is added to the Glow Plaza site, advertising for events at the Glow Plaza will be allowed on the Sands parcel because it will be considered on-premises signage,” the staff report says.

The staff report doesn’t mention Footnote 11 that appears to limit casino-type signs to casino uses. With that Footnote in place, no other business in Reno has been granted a permit to use an onsite sign facing our public roads that can soar 100 feet or are as big as 4,000 square feet. Perhaps, until now.

We disagree with staff and believe, respectfully, the City staff has not even attempted to deal with the issue at hand – extending the almost unlimited signage rights afforded to casinos to non-casino uses – in the staff report.  Under these circumstances, the Planning Commission can and should rightfully ignore staff’s recommendation. The Planning Commission should deny the proposed conditional use permit because the approved use of the Glow Plaza is for outdoor concerts and is not for gaming, therefore normal sign laws should apply. And allowing the proposed amendment would circumvent the ban on digital billboards.