Foes of Baltimore residential billboards hail judge's removal order

October 26, 1990|By Ann LoLordo

The lawyers debating the legality of 1,300 billboards in Baltimore had just finished their arguments Wednesday. And as Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan leaned back in his chair, Sylvia Fulwood leaned forward in her seat.

"He looked like he was going to say the right thing," Ms. Fulwood, one of the leaders in the fight to remove the billboards from Baltimore neighborhoods, said yesterday. "And I said, 'Something good's going to come out of this.' "

For Ms. Fulwood, 28, and other members of the Coalition for Beautiful Neighborhoods, Judge Kaplan's order that Boisclair Advertising Inc. remove the billboards within 60 days reaffirmed their hope that "the system" can work for the little guy. The group has been campaigning for the removal of billboards, the majority of which are in residential neighborhoods and carry alcohol and tobacco advertisements that residents find objectionable.

It was the system that had let residents down, a city bureaucracy that failed to enforce its own laws to keep the billboards from proliferating.

"We feel Judge Kaplan's heroic decision shows the community the system can work," Barbara Ferguson, a coalition spokeswoman, told a gathering at City Hall yesterday. "The communities have been fighting for this a long time."

The battlefield is shifting to Annapolis, where Boisclair says it will ask an appeals court to stay Judge Kaplan's order.

That would mean the billboards -- many of which Boisclair contends predate city zoning laws and are therefore legal -- would remain up until the legal fight is over.

The city and Boisclair have sued one another over the billboards.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday the city will fight any attempt to delay removal of the signs.

"This is a public health problem. They are a nuisance," Mr. Schmoke said of the billboards, which measure 5 feet by 10 feet.

"We think that we're right on this one and we're really representing the sentiments of the majority of the community," the mayor said.

Early this week, the city removed 11 billboards it claims were posted illegally on six city-owned row houses, said David Tanner, chief of zoning enforcement. Mr. Tanner said he informed Boisclair on Sept. 24 that it had five days to remove the billboards.

"Anything they take down, they better be willing to pay for it because my position is they're going to have to," said Walter E. Diercks, an attorney representing Boisclair.

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