Businesses Object Anew To New Sign Bill

Trade Council Sees A 'Substantial' Cost

March 29, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

County zoning officials have revived legislation to stamp out unsightly signs, but business owners dislike the new regulations as much asa sign bill they helped kill last year.

The height and size of signs are the main issues. The dimensions specified in a draft of the new bill generally are half of what a sign code revision committee, composed of residents and business people, recommended.

The business community was "shocked" by the size and height restrictions in the draft bill, said Jeannette D. Wessel, executive vice president of the Anne Arundel County Trade Council, which represents 800 businesses. "They basically ignored the sign committee's recommendations."

The bill calls for existing signs that do not meet the new regulations to be phased out beginning Jan. 1, 1994.

Bert Mason,a member of both the trade council and the sign committee, said there is no way the business community can support the bill. Businesses with signs that are legal under the existing ordinance should be exempted from any new law, he said.

"There are going to be hundreds andhundreds of businesses that are going to have to modify their signs,signs that currently are legal," Mason said. The cost will be "substantial," he and Wessel agreed.

"In the current economy, a lot of businesses are really suffering and just hanging on. We have to ask ifthat burden should be put on businesses that can't afford it," Wessel said.

The sign bill originated with former County Executive O. James Lighthizer as part of a beautification campaign. He formed the sign code committee, which studied the issue for 11 months before submitting draft legislation to the executive. In April, the bill went before the County Council, where it ran into opposition from businessesand council members who felt it would hurt the small-business man.

The sign committee then drafted 43 amendments designed to soften the bill, but Lighthizer disagreed with some of them and did not send arevised bill to the council.

County Executive Robert R. Neall revived the sign bill because "he thought it was a good idea," said Louise Hayman, his press secretary.

Tom Harris, the zoning department's legislative planner, said the new draft bill is a compromise between the Lighthizer bill and the sign committee's second set of recommendations.

The proposal would:

* Limit the size and height of freestanding signs according to road classification. Sizes would vary from 10 feet high and 24 square feet along a local road to 25 feet highand 100 square feet along a major highway.

Signs in shopping centers would be no more than 25 or 20 feet high, depending on the location, with square footages from 80 to 150 square feet.

* Limit the number of signs per establishment.

* Require all new signs to be marked with a tag signifying that they comply with the law. Existing signs must be tagged by Jan. 1, 1994.

* Require that existing signs be brought into compliance with the new ordinance beginning Jan. 1, 1994, when signs erected before Jan. 1, 1987 must meet the law. Signs erected since Jan. 1, 1991, would have until Jan. 1, 1999, to comply.Illegal signs would have to be removed immediately.

* Create a sign contractor's license.

* Limit signs and advertisements posted near gas pumps and vending machines.

* Require campaign signs to beposted no more than 45 days before an election, as opposed to six months under the existing law.

Business leaders say the county doesn't need a new law as much as it needs to enforce the law it has. Zoning enforcement officials say they do not have the manpower to enforcethe "thousands" of sign violations in Anne Arundel, nor are they able to distinguish between non-conforming signs -- signs erected beforethe current law was enacted -- and illegal signs. The law has not been revised since 1982.

The new sign bill is expected to be presented to the council in late April, Harris said.

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