Signs mark development battlefield Residents oppose growth designation

April 15, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

If brightly colored road signs are an indication of trouble ahead, Anne Arundel officials should prepare for a bumpy ride as they try to gather support for future development plans they've proposed for South County.

"Meet the Monster That Could Eat South County," reads one sign along winding Deale Churchton Road. "For Sale: Our Future," says another. "Entering Primary Growth Area: Resume Greed," says yet another. "Danger: Growth Zone Ahead." All are the handiwork of Shady Side Peninsula residents intent on preserving their coastal communities from what they see as the threat of overdevelopment.

And while the light-hearted signs have made passing motorists chuckle, county officials haven't been so amused. Zoning enforcement officers have torn down about 50 signs during the past month or so.

The sign conflict, heated as it's becoming, is part of a bigger battle being waged against the county's general development plan, which designates places such as Shady Side and Deale as primary growth areas, places where developers and commercial ventures will be steered. Residents say that with that label will come more residents, more houses, more congestion to endanger their rural neighborhood and its wetlands.

"We're concerned about rapid growth in our area so all we're trying to do is inform our neighbors about what the county is doing and what it could mean for us," said Brett Joseph, a member of the Shady Deale Alliance, a coalition of community groups responsible for the signs. "I'm surprised by how hostile the county has been toward us and our signs.

Free speech

"I don't know what their expectation was that this plan would just be railroaded through, complaint-free," Joseph said. "But this episode over the signs is just a blatant effort to suppress our freedom of speech."

Residents are annoyed that while the county has ripped down their anti-growth signs, plenty of signs publicizing auction and yard sales and real estate offers have been left untouched. Also untouched have been posters publicizing a County Council informational meeting on the growth plan Thursday.

County officials maintain that the anti-growth signs are illegal and violate the county code regulations on "political signs."

"Are we targeting them by taking down their signs? No," said John A. Morris, a spokesman for the county's planning and code enforcement office. "The zoning division takes down between 1,500 and 2,000 illegal signs every week. They're illegal."

Morris said anyone wishing to post signs must first inform the county and identify the locations where signs will be placed. In general, "nonpolitical signs are approved," Morris said.

Residents can expect zoning officers to continue tearing the signs down in routine cleanup sweeps, he said, then added, "They certainly show a great sense of humor, though."

Not so funny was a letter Pasadena lawyer Weems W. Duvall Jr. sent zoning enforcement officer David B. Edwards on Friday. He has been retained to represent the alliance in the sign matter, he wrote, and in his view the county was "in flagrant violation of our members' First Amendment rights of free speech."

The county code, Duvall noted, allows temporary signs and signs dealing with public issues, such as the alliance's that draw XTC "public attention to the revision of the county plan and to encourage attendance at the County Council public meeting on this matter."

The growth plan, not the signs, are the real issue, Morris said.

County Executive John G. Gary made it clear recently that the county doesn't have the money to pay for extensive roads and water and sewer lines. Therefore, under the growth plan, 90 percent of development would be channeled into the 40 percent of the county where the infrastructure exists. South County, currently zoned as low and medium-low density, contains several small designated growth areas, including Deale, Shady Side and Wayson's Corner.

"There is a concern and perception by some residents that by calling it a primary growth area, it changes the zoning that it automatically means more development," Morris said. "That's certainly not true."

Plan still waiting

The plan, he noted, won't even be formally introduced to the County Council for consideration until next month.

But some South County activists are seething. They don't buy the county's response.

Michael Shay, a member of the alliance, agrees. Shay and Joseph are also members of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development Inc., a group that unsuccessfully opposed a 154-house subdivision planned for Baldwin's Choice, near Shady Side.

SACReD used similar signs in their campaign against Baldwin's Choice.

"The county is not intimidating us, I can tell you that," said Shay, who every day defiantly puts the signs up around the peninsula. His brown Volvo station wagon is full of bright yellow, aqua and fluorescent green boards and signs.

"Our signs stir interest in the community," Shay said. "We want a big turnout for the April 17th meeting and we think the signs will achieve that. And as far as we're concerned, we can put the signs up as fast as they can take them down."

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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