IT'S SPRING AND the fertile earth is abloom with -- billboards? That's the view of South Carroll residents and businesses that want the profusion of advertising signage nipped in the bud. Too many big, attention-grabbing signs result in visual pollution and traffic safety hazards.
Carroll County planners proposed a ban on new billboards, but the planning commission wants to review the entire issue, including existing billboards. There's a suggestion for new rules to be adopted in the master plan for land use, soon to be overhauled after 32 years.
Public reaction, however, varies by the part of the county and the main highway in question. Along Route 30, traffic congestion seems much more a problem than roadside signage. The development along Route 140, traveled by nearly 50,000 people daily, is as apt to catch the eye as any particular billboard, although they are in abundant display. A few years ago, Carroll had about 10 percent of billboards in Maryland.
But in South Carroll, where reaction against growth and congestion is most acute, the billboard bonanza on Routes 32 and 26 is another visible target of public discontent. And these billboard critics have found the ultimate argument for their cause: "We're beginning to look like Glen Burnie."
The debate over roadside signs crops up in every community. There's no single right answer. Some travelers appreciate the information on billboards, which no small multi-services sign like those found along interstates can match. Other motorists find a forest of billboards an eyesore that blocks out natural scenery. Local residents may be more upset than travelers (unless it's their sign).
With county officials seriously looking at the issue, some controls will likely be enacted. But countywide bans and forced removals of large signage may provoke more backlash from businesses that rely on such advertising. Also from campaigning politicians and public service agencies, such as the state police.
Still, there's good reason to heed the wishes of communities that want to protect their areas from a sea of billboards, perhaps with designated non-billboard zones. Setting standards, including restrictions on new billboards, should be a goal of the county's master plan revision. It's a good sign of change in Carroll.
Pub Date: 5/03/96