A coalition of Baltimore community groups has filed suit against Boisclair Advertising Inc. seeking the removal of the firm's billboards from residential areas.
Billboard ads for liquor and cigarettes in the inner city "send a very negative message . . . to our young people," one of the plaintiffs, Leslie Howard, said yesterday. "A message of death and destruction."
Filed Oct. 11 in Baltimore Circuit Court, the suit seeks the removal of Boisclair's 900 mini-billboards in residential areas, an injunction preventing any additional ones, and $6 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Since last year, Baltimore City has been engaged in a legal battle with Boisclair, claiming that hundreds of its billboards must be removed because they violate zoning laws.
Fourth District Councilman Lawrence Bell praised the suit yesterday, saying it could be consolidated with city's case against Boisclair to add "another nail in the coffin."
City Council President Mary Pat Clark called the billboards "litter on a stick."
The Coalition for Beautiful Neighborhoods, established last January by more than 30 community and religious groups, reports that about 900 of Boisclair's billboards violate zoning laws. About 400 other billboards are illegal because the firm failed to secure zoning permits for them, billboard opponents contend.
Coalition members cited the proliferation of advertising messages for liquor and tobacco products in mostly black neighborhoods such as Harlem Park and Lafayette Square.
They said that, if the billboard dilemma is not resolved in court, some citizens may "take the law into their own hands."
Last September, a mystery man nicknamed the "Baltimore Magician" took a paint-roller and covered up about half a dozen ** billboards the city had been fighting to eliminate from a West Baltimore neighborhood.
Coalition members also suggested the possibility of a boycott against companies that buy billboard ads.
The suit says the billboards create an "unattractive blighting influence which tends to stymie economic and housing investment and development, and to affect adversely the quality of life."