Proposal is bad sign to residents

September 17, 1994|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

Today, when residents of Stone Hill and Brick Hill in Baltimore's Jones Falls Valley sit on their porches to enjoy the view, they see a skyline of trees and, if they squint, downtown skyscrapers.

But if the Eastern Outdoor Advertising Co. has its way, they could be looking at a 115-foot-high, 12-foot-by-48-foot illuminated billboard.

"I don't think I'm going to appreciate light shining in my face in my own back yard," said Thomas Wann, 57, who lives in the Brick Hill house his parents once occupied.

The fight to save their view and, ultimately, their cherished isolation from urbanization has brought together two areas FTC whose residents are used to pitching in for neighborhood causes. "We're upset and angry, but we're also really mobilized," said Andrew Van Styn, an antiques dealer who helped to organize a fund-raising auction tonight that will include a log-cabin dollhouse, sailboat painting and other items made by residents.

Named for the stone and brick of which they are made, the two clumps of houses, largely removed from Hampden proper, sit on crests above the old Falls Road cotton mill, which once employed most of the residents.

Stone Hill inhabitants own their streets and band together in winter to clear snow and ice from their neighborhood of stone duplexes, which date from the mid-1800s.

Residents of Brick Hill, a neighborhood anchored by a horseshoe of rowhouses, cleared trash from a steep hillside next to Falls Road to make room for a communal flower garden and picnic area.

"We have to fight for everything we want," said Terri Goodman, who always has lived in the same Brick Hill house and now heads the community association.

When residents discovered that the ad company wanted to build the billboard on Falls Road so it could be seen by southbound drivers on the Jones Falls Expressway, they began protesting.

The city's Planning Department initially agreed with the company -- until it heard from angry residents. Then the department reversed its decision and recommended that the zoning board reject the billboard.

At a Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals meeting May 17, residents turned out in force. The board rejected Eastern's request.

But in June, the company filed an appeal in Baltimore Circuit Court. A hearing is set for Nov. 9.

"We believe the board erred in this case," said Judson Lipowitz, Eastern's attorney. "My client has complied with all of the regulations and the zoning ordinance and is entitled as a matter of law to erect the sign on the site as proposed."

In the meantime, residents have hired a lawyer and are hoping they can raise enough from tonight's party and auction to pay his fee.

Mr. Van Styn said he opposes all billboards as visual pollution. The proposed one, he said, would destroy the character of the neighborhood he chose six years ago over his "dream farm" in Cecil County.

"It's despoiling the visual aesthetic . . . in order to sell things to people who live in the suburbs and work in the city," Mr. Van Styn said.

Brick Hill residents said light from the proposed sign would ruin ,, their evening ritual of sitting in their back yards and chatting along the alley that connects them.

While company officials now say they prefer not to discuss the matter, during last spring's zoning hearings they said the billboard hardly would be noticed by neighbors. "This sign is compatible with existing uses," Kurt Rutherford, associate manager at Eastern, said. "It is heavy industrial. There are no dwellings in the immediate area. The closest ones do not see the face of the sign."

But Susan Gilson isn't interested in seeing the back of the sign as she sits in her yard on Pacific Street.

"I'd probably move," she said. "Once the leaves fall, anything in the sky in this area would be totally visible -- illumination especially."

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