Westport meeting set on billboard proposal Residents doubtful of plan to help children

September 14, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

A wealthy professional designer, slowed earlier this year by public pressure, is stepping up his campaign to build twin billboards on a single pole along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in the Westport neighborhood.

Albert V. Corbi has said he will use a fraction of the profits to fund youth programs. He has scheduled a meeting for 6 p.m. today in Westport Temple Church of God, on Annapolis Road, to discuss his proposal.

If constructed to full height, the billboards would be the highest in the Baltimore area.

Most residents have heard the pitch several times since Corbi and his wife, Lana, a television executive, first came to a neighborhood meeting two years ago. Since then, several residents of the working-class southwest city neighborhood have grown suspicious of Corbi. This summer, Corbi, who has two Rolls-Royces, two Mercedes and an Annapolis mansion. moved to Los Angeles to be with his wife.

While Corbi says his main purpose is to help local children, he has refused to go forward with his group, the for-profit Youth Organized and Administered Happenings, without the billboards and the money they would provide.

His chief opponents have been city planners, nervous about the signs' height, and the Westport Improvement Association, an organization made up mostly of older, longtime residents. During a July meeting, association members voted to oppose Corbi's billboard plan.

Before that vote, Corbi had been reluctant to criticize the improvement association directly. But last month, Corbi began distributing letters attacking the group and its president, Virginia Newcomb, by name. One letter calls the association "a small special interest group" and says that because of Newcomb, the children of Westport do not have projects he says he wants to provide: a new basketball court, summer camps and youth scholarships.

In his recent letters to the community, Corbi continues to say there will be no YOAH (pronounced "Yo!) without the billboards. But he also embraces two ideas he had shied away from previously: After resisting a written agreement last year, Corbi now is circulating a community pledge in which he promises to provide a variety of community programs and maintain the billboard site. A letter says he will sign the agreement once "all necessary permits" for the billboards "have been awarded."

After waffling on what types of ads he would accept, Corbi now promises he will not accept alcohol or tobacco ads.

Corbi has withdrawn his zoning board application for the billboards. He has said he will submit it again only when Newcomb and others drop their objections.

Asked for her reaction this week, Newcomb said, "He is trying to put us between him and the kids. He is selling this billboard any way he can, and I don't trust him."

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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