Temporary signs to come down Balto. Co. inspectors will start removing roadside markers

March 05, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Prompted by community complaints, Baltimore County inspectors will soon begin yanking the small, temporary cardboard signs that litter intersections and advertise everything from new housing developments to karate lessons and diet powder.

"It's like a multicolored spring garden that goes up each weekend and gets mowed down by Sunday -- only to spring up again the next Friday," said Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a 2nd District Democrat irked by the signs that flourish, among other places, in Randallstown, Owings Mills and Pikesville. "The situation is out of hand."

Such signs -- most of them colorful real estate graphics stapled to wooden stakes -- obstruct traffic, distract drivers and clutter median strips and roadsides, says Bill Bralove, a Randallstown resident who has fought them for years.

"It's ugly, and it's illegal," Bralove said. "The signs have become an eyesore and greatly infringe on those in the community."

Similar signs, posted illegally along state-maintained highways, can bring fines of up to $500. In Baltimore County, their placement on public property is a violation of local law that can bring a fine of up to $200 per day, Kamenetz said. To stop it, he has asked Arnold Jablon, director of the county's department of permits and development management, to dispatch inspectors to remove signs in Kamenetz's district beginning March 15. Only signs belonging to churches and service organizations will be allowed to remain, Jablon said.

"It's not in the interest of the county to pursue fines at this point. Rather, we have to send the message that the signs have to be taken down, and any repeat violators should be dealt with in a more stringent fashion," Kamenetz said. "With 50 signs at each location, you can't read one of them because there's so many. The situation is absurd."

But such a move will anger developers, said Tom Ballentine of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, who argued that the advertisements are critical to home sales. Ballentine said his organization would oppose any attempt to eliminate the signs from the roadside. "Those signs get 60 percent of our buyers to and from the homesites," Ballentine said. "They are crucial to the success of the industry. No marketing tool is available to replace the signs."

Most of the signs are put up by homebuilders and real estate agents eager to direct prospective buyers to new developments. But signs increasingly are being placed along public roadways by companies hawking diet powder, dental insurance sales and house painting as they try to tap into drive-by marketing.

Squabbles over this type of low-cost advertising are not limited to Baltimore County. A Harford County man, irritated by a proliferation of tiny homebuilder signs, is accused of setting out on a seven-hour, search-and-destroy mission to tear down advertisements along U.S. 1 in September 1995. Rommel Crabtree was hit with criminal theft charges by developers -- and could receive a prison term of 15 years if he is convicted. His trial was postponed yesterday.

Bralove, who rivals Crabtree in his disdain for the signs, has lobbied elected officials to remove the signs for years and videotaped cluttered intersections in an attempt to show how the signs pose potential safety hazards to drivers.

He said this week he is relieved the problem might soon be solved.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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