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Illegal billboard ads just won't go away Despite court ruling, liquor and tobacco pitches dot city

February 19, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman and Scott Shane | Erika D. Peterman and Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

A liquor store shares the street, and Thomas doesn't think that's a coincidence. She believes the billboards deter "positive" businesses and residents from moving in, contributing to what she calls the deterioration of the community.

"I'm not saying it's the only cause. I'm saying it plays a role in the mind-set of the people," Thomas said. "Folks get the impression that the community just doesn't care."

The first nine billboard violations were appealed by Universal Outdoor Co.

Steve Southern, the company's general manager, declined to comment, saying he was tired of seeing billboard companies portrayed as "the guy in the black hat."

If the city wins its zoning fight, cigarettes and liquor won't suffer from underexposure. The zoning survey found 73 legal tobacco and alcohol billboards, including the mammoth, lighted Budweiser billboard facing I-95 that Kline's grandchildren can see from their neighborhood playground.

And then there are the mobile billboards, 10-by-22-foot rolling ads developed about 15 years ago by the New York City company Prestige Panels, according to Neal Weed, a partner in that business.

Weed, now president of Moving Advertising Productions of Stamford, Conn., operates 30 mobile billboard trucks in a half-dozen cities, charging about $3,500 for a minimum contract of 50 hours of driving on a prescribed route.

Weed said his company stopped taking tobacco ads a few years ago to avoid controversy, but he's had mobile beer billboards in Baltimore in recent months. "I don't call beer alcoholic beverages," he said.

The current mobile cigarette billboards in town -- two for Winston and one for Camel -- are owned by Do It Outdoors, a year-old company in York, Pa.

"It's just a billboard on wheels," said Regis Maher, company co-owner. "It rolls or it's stationary -- whatever the customer wants."

R. J. Reynolds spokeswoman Carole Crosslin said the company has used mobile billboards in Baltimore on occasion since 1992 and denied that they are intended to evade the ban. "We advertise within the parameters of local legislation," she said.

Though the Camel billboard truck has been sighted recently on Broadway in Fells Point and on Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor -- locations where a fixed billboard would not be allowed -- mobile billboards are not covered by the ban, said Johnson, the zoning administrator.

"We can't regulate moving billboards," said Johnson. "I've seen them. I get questions about them every couple of months.

"But the zoning code applies to land use. To what address would we issue the violation?"

David Kinkopf, a lawyer representing the Citywide Liquor Coalition, said he's not so sure.

"There's certainly no precedent," he said. "But I think it might be possible to use the law against those trucks."

He noted that the law specifically exempts taxis and Mass Transit Administration vehicles -- though by policy of the state agency, buses, light rail and Metro cars do not carry liquor and tobacco ads -- so it might be interpreted as applying to vehicles that are not exempt.

Kline, the coalition chairwoman, says she recently spotted one mobile billboard and "was appalled." She keeps her grandchildren counting stationary billboards and, after a decline, she thinks the numbers around her Morrell Park neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore are going back up.

"When they came out with that Red Dog thing, a big billboard went up on Carey Street," she said.

"My grandkids said, 'You know what that is?' I said no.

"They said, 'That's a new beer.' "

Pub Date: 2/19/98

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