Planners see signs to ban billboards Residents, businesses say they mar scenery

April 08, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

Tired of more and more billboards adding to the visual pollution along the county's congested highways, South Carroll residents and businesses are pushing county officials to ban the signs.

"They're springing up around here like cornstalks," said Carolyn Fairbank of Eldersburg. "These are not small signs but huge billboards. It looks like Ritchie Highway. I think the county needs to address the aesthetics and quality of life here."

Ms. Fairbank and others argue that billboards are eyesores, detracting from the beauty of the countryside, and are safety hazards because they distract drivers. Many billboards are concentrated around Routes 26 and 32 in Eldersburg.

County planners have begun wrestling with the issue. A ban on new billboards was among several proposed changes to the county's sign regulations. The planning commission has recommended that billboards be addressed separately, however.

"It seems as though there is a need for more dialogue to be sure we're doing this right," said Dave Duree, planning commission chairman. "Rather than hold up the rest of the [regulations], we decided the billboard ban should be handled on its own merits."

Joe Mettle, a planning commission member, said several issues need to be addressed, including how to deal with existing billboards throughout the county. Some people have suggested that existing billboards be phased out. Others have recommended they be replaced with small highway signs that advertise several businesses -- like those in Columbia.

Sign company representatives, meeting with the planning commission in late February, deemed the proposed ban on billboards sudden and excessive. They said that the signs perform a service for businesses and that they've had no complaints from the public.

"We need to come up with something that sign makers like, that advertisers like and that the people like," Mr. Mettle said.

The County Commissioners have asked the Economic Development Commission to make recommendations on the proposed billboard ban and changes to the sign regulations, which, among other things, call for limiting outdoor wall signs at malls to anchor stores and restricting outdoor advertising for other mall stores to one outdoor sign.

"Billboards are a concern," said Phil Rovang, the county's Planning Department director. "The commissioners could re-establish that [ban] and put it back in the proposed regulations. This measure simply said enough is enough -- we have all the billboards we need."

Dan Hughes, founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, said that his group was pleased the planning commission has responded to concerns about signs but that billboards still need to be addressed. His group is reviewing sign ordinances from around the country and hopes to make recommendations to the planning board while it updates the master plan.

"Our primary concern is aesthetics," Mr. Hughes said. "The other problem is that billboards attract attention and there's a potential for accidents. As far as aesthetics, every community has a right to define the way it's going to look. It's no different than a homeowners association having the right to control aesthetics of a neighborhood."

Carroll has billboard regulations in place but nothing limiting their locations. Existing regulations include height and size limits, and proximity to property lines, intersections and other signs.

"We are four-square opposed to billboards in the South Carroll area," said Gene Edwards, a member of the South Carroll Business Association. "There are too many of them, and it's getting worse and worse. We're beginning to look like Glen Burnie."

Mr. Edwards, who chairs the 150-member association's government affairs committee, is drafting a letter asking Carroll officials to further review all county sign regulations.

He said he believes existing regulations have not been enforced and penalties for violators are too low.

"We're trying to make this look like a nice place to visit and work and shop, and that can't happen if you make it look like a honky-tonk city," Mr. Edwards said. "We have the community behind this."

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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