Boisclair Advertising Inc., which owns hundreds of illegal billboards around Baltimore, has decided not to appeal a court ruling ordering it to remove the signs.
Leaders in the predominantly low-income, black neighborhoods where most of the billboards are found have long protested them, saying they are eyesores and undermine community values by glorifying liquor and cigarettes.
"Great!" Sylvia D. Fulwood, director of East Baltimore Midway/Barclay Community Organization, said yesterday. "This means they have to come down."
But a Boisclair official, acknowledging that the appeal deadline was Monday, refused to concede defeat and said his company was evaluating its options.
"Just give us a couple of days," said James A. Eatrides, a Boisclair vice president. "It's a very fuzzy picture today, which we hope will clear up in a few days."
For more than two years, a coalition of community groups organized by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association has been trying to force Boisclair to remove about 1,300 of the 5-by-10-foot "junior" billboards. Such signs were banned from residential neighborhoods by a 1971 city zoning ordinance.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan ruled in 1990 that the signs should come down, noting the existence of "a genuine dispute" over their legality.
Then, on Oct. 30, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the ruling, giving Boisclair until Monday to appeal.
Neighborhood activists have said the billboards, which can be found on walls of mom-and-pop grocery stores or corner row houses in economically depressed neighborhoods, exploit the residents who live there by promoting negative lifestyles.
In November 1989, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke agreed to an arrangement under which Boisclair would eliminate about 400 of its signs and spread the remaining signs more evenly throughout the city. But the mayor backed away from the agreement three months later, and each side sued the other in May 1990.
Hathaway C. Ferebee, executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, said Boisclair's failure to appeal apparently brings that legal fight to an end.
"Community leaders have been trying for years to get the billboards down," Ms. Ferebee said. The billboards, she said, are "generally people swigging wine, saying, 'Isn't life great because I've got this wine or I smoke cigarettes?' "