Cluttered view from car may get better if county alters rules on outdoor signs BALTIMORE COUNTY

August 26, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Finally, after 25 years, Baltimore County may be nearing the end of its efforts to rewrite regulations governing outdoor signs.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden has a thick proposal of new regulations for consideration by the planning board and, ultimately, the County Council.

If adopted, the regulations would reduce the visual clutter of signs lining county roadways without hurting businesses that depend on signs to lure customers, said Mr. Hayden. And they would chop away the thorny thicket of complicated regulations and exceptions that have grown since 1955, the last time a full revision was done.

Mr. Hayden called the proposal, the result of efforts begun in 1991, "a tremendous opportunity to bring reason and logic to bear. We've done a tremendous amount of homework."

Mary Ginn, a Towson activist who represented the Alliance of Baltimore County Community Councils in the sign discussions, called the county's effort "an excellent idea."

"Sometimes it gets awfully gaudy," she said of the scene along the roadways.

Wayne Skinner, a Towson area community activist who is also director of the Towson Business Association, said that people will probably agree on 75 percent to 80 percent of the proposal, and fight about the rest. "It's a progressive step forward. It's something that has to be done," he said.

Fred Lauer, whose Penn Advertising is the last billboard company active in the county, said that he has some doubts about portions of the proposal, but agrees that a complete reform of the regulations is "probably necessary." He also said that the administration's process has been good, allowing plenty of comment from all segments of the community.

"I appreciate that," he said.

The planning board will hold a public hearing on the proposal, which will then move to the County Council. The planning board also hopes to find a new policy for regulating temporary weekend signs and insert it into the main plan. The County Council would then decide whether the policy should become law.

A few major changes are included among the 43 pages of proposed new zoning standards. They include:

* All signs existing on the date the new law was adopted would be grandfathered in for another 10 years. After that, signs not conforming to the new standards would have to come down.

* The number of signs would be reduced to one per property, with some exceptions such as car dealers who sell multiple brands of vehicles, service stations and order boards at fast-food places. However, property owners still could apply for a variance.

* Roof signs would not be allowed to extend higher than the roof itself. Currently, signs can rise 16 feet above the roof.

* New billboards would be allowed only in exchange for removal of existing boards, and they would have to be at least 1,000 feet from each other. In addition, billboards would be banned from all rural areas. They are now permitted in business areas of rural sections.

* Special events signs, including portable signs, balloons, ribbons, pennants, streamers and such would be prohibited.

* Electronic message signs would be regulated for the first time, and would be allowed in some business zones. But they could change messages only four times per day, not continuously.

* Developers of new projects would have to include sign plans, allowing community review of signs as part of the normal approval process.

* Fees for sign applications, which now cost $15 each, would go up precipitously, though Mr. Hayden and P. David Fields, the county planning director, said they had not yet decided by how much.

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