ANNAPOLIS -- Baltimore chalked up another victory today in its effort to rid city neighborhoods of illegal billboards as the Court of Special Appeals upheld an order by a city judge requiring an advertising company to take down the signs within 60 days.
But it is unclear how soon the signs, many of which advertise alcohol and cigarettes in poor, black neighborhoods, will come down. Boisclair Advertising Inc., which owns the signs, could ask the Court of Appeals to review the decision. And the signs could stay up until the legal fight is over.
Walter E. Diercks, one of the lawyers representing Boisclair, said yesterday he could not comment or decide whether to appeal until he has read the intermediate appellate court's decision.
City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said she was "very pleased" with the decision. Should the signs come down within 60 days, "that would be a nice Christmas gift for Baltimore," she said.
"But until the boards do come down, it won't be real for the people in the neighborhoods," she said.
For nearly two years, a coalition of community groups, along with city council members, has sought to remove about 1,300 of the 5 feet by 10 feet "junior" billboards, which they contend violate zoning laws and are a blight on neighborhoods.
In November 1989, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke negotiated an agreement with Boisclair to reduce the number of signs by 400 and redistribute the remainder around town. But three months later, the city revoked the agreement and each side sued the other in May 1990.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan granted the city's request for a summary judgment last October, deciding that Boisclair didn't have enough of a case to merit a trial and dismissed the company's complaint. Yesterday, the Court of Special Appeals agreed.
Where lawyers for the city effectively made their case for summary judgment, Boisclair's lawyers did not demonstrate that genuine dispute did exist as to whether the company's signs were legal," the court held.
"We're very happy with it, and I'm sure the communities will be happy as well," said Sandra Gutman, the assistant city attorney who argued the case.