Tougher limits on signs weighed But Balto. Co. bill is less strict than earlier attempts to cut clutter

March 10, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

After nearly 30 years of debate, the Baltimore County Council at last is considering a bill to restrict the size and number of business signs -- but the measure is not as severe as earlier attempts to reduce visual clutter in the commercial corridors.

The bill, introduced by the council's two Republican members last week and scheduled for hearings next month, would:

Outlaw most roof signs, pennants, streamers and portable signs.

Limit shopping center signs to no more than five lines, each of which would have to be at least 8 inches high.

Freeze the number of billboards in the county.

The bill drops provisions that would have restricted the size of window signs and would have required a business address on each sign.

It extends the time business owners have to comply from 10 years to 15 years and gives them the opportunity to petition for exemptions if their business signs are distinctive, such as the Bel-Loc Diner's neon roof sign or the foxes atop Fox car dealerships.

The bill doesn't address temporary signs, such as real estate signs, which are illegal on public property but still prevalent.

"All of the controversial stuff has been dropped," said Towson Councilman Douglas B. Riley, one of the bill's sponsors, who said he expects the sign restrictions to pass.

Baltimore County has tried several times since 1968 to overhaul its 43-year-old sign law, and each time has failed. While community organizations protested the proliferation of signs and banners, business organizations resisted attempts to curb commercial signage.

Even this time, while council members are in general agreement that sign restrictions are needed, Riley has had trouble getting the support of council Democrats.

Pikesville-Randallstown Councilman Kevin Kamenetz is angry that Riley pressed for the bill's introduction while some details of the measure were being worked out.

Catonsville-Arbutus Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley said he waiting to see what amendments are introduced before deciding whether to support the bill. He suggested it might be wiser to introduce a new bill rather than vote on a bill with amendments.

But he also said the council realizes action must be taken. "I think by the summertime you will see something come up. It is desperately needed," Moxley said.

Dundalk Councilman Louis L. DePazzo said he might agree to co-sponsor the bill after he reads it. "I'll be looking at it favorably," he said.

The Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce also is withholding judgment on the measure until business leaders have reviewed it. The chamber opposed earlier versions of the sign law, saying some provisions were too burdensome for business.

"We think our concerns have been met, but we need to make sure," said Chamber President Robert L. McKinney.

Council members will have 30 days to introduce amendments to the bill. Riley said he expects changes will be made, but that the council ultimately will approve the bill.

"We'd better, or we'll hear a lot of screaming from people," he said.

Meanwhile, the issue of temporary signs will still have to be resolved.

In the past, the county has failed to find a compromise between community associations, which oppose the signs, and homebuilders, who say signs are needed to bring business to new housing developments.

lTC The planning board has promised to consider such off-premises signs at another time.

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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