No solution in sight for sign debate Council will try to foster compromise BALTIMORE COUNTY

October 01, 1993|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

In early editions yesterday, an article about the controversy in Baltimore County over weekend real estate signs was accompanied by a photo incorrectly identified as that of County Councilman Douglas B. Riley. In fact, it was Councilman Vincent J. Gardina.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Key County Council members say there aren't enough votes to override a Baltimore County Planning Board recommendation that regulations prohibiting weekend real estate directional signs retained.

However, Council Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said the council should try to bring developers and community groups together to resolve their differences over what has become one of the county's most controversial issues.


After 10 months of internal wrangling, the Planning Board last week recommended no change in current laws and zoning regulations, which theoretically ban the signs that pop up on roadsides every weekend to direct prospective homebuyers and renters to new developments.

The Planning Board relied heavily on an opinion from the county Office of Law, which said allowing signs from one industry while banning those from other business interests would be unconstitutional.

If the council ultimately decides not to change the law, the real estate industry is likely to continue erecting the signs wherever it can. Though the signs may be illegal, the county doesn't have the manpower to enforce the law and the wording makes prosecution difficult.

"I don't really expect to see the signs disappear if there is no change in the laws," said Arnold Jablon, county zoning administrator.

Developers contend that 30 percent of their sales are generated from the signs, which attract casual house shoppers. In the current recession, they say, the signs are a key to keeping their industry afloat.

Community organizations lined up solidly against any attempt to legalize the signs, even with limits on the number allowed.

Community leaders contend the signs clutter neighborhoods and pose potential traffic hazards. They argue that legalization of any kind would benefit a select industry at the expense of older, stable neighborhoods.

County zoning regulations and county code prohibit any advertising signs on county property or rights of way, although a policy established 30 years ago allows the signs on private property with the property owner's permission.

Whatever the council decides, Mr. Jablon said, he wants better enforcement powers. The current law requires the county to prosecute the person who puts the sign up, not the developer.

"I need a provision that presumes the name of the builder or development on these signs are responsible for putting them up," Mr. Jablon said.

Ten months ago, the council asked the Planning Board to study possible changes in county regulations that would legalize the real estate signs, but possibly control their number and placement. "I also thought it would benefit the community to get some handle on the number of signs being put up," said Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, who introduced a resolution asking for the study.

Mr. Riley said he was disappointed that the Planning Board's recommendation leaves the issue unanswered. But he doesn't see enough sentiment on the council to make changes.

"We might discuss the Planning Board's recommendation informally, but I don't see the council doing much on this issue until at least the whole signs package comes to us next February or March," said Mr. Riley, referring to a comprehensive revision of the county's sign regulations that has been under way for months.

Mr. Ruppersberger said he would try to put together a small committee of community members, real estate interests and council members to see if a compromise can be reached.

"Development of new houses does have an economic impact on the county and we don't want to risk that," said Mr. Ruppersberger. "Let's get all the facts on the table and see where we can go from there."

The initial recommendation from county zoning officials was to legalize the signs, restrict the number to 36 signs within a mile radius for each development, and have a developer show on a map exactly where the signs would be placed to aid enforcement.

But the Planning Board did hedge its recommendations. Acting hTC on a report by a special committee, the board said that if the council decided to change the laws it should limit the number of signs at any intersection to six and charge permit fees for signs to help pay for the cost of regulation.

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