Billboard foes get bad news at hearing Proposed law change would only forbid new ones, official says

July 30, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll County residents looking to get rid of more than 300 billboards that line the county's highways did not get encouraging news last night.

A proposed amendment to the county sign law would bar new billboards only.

Few, if any, new billboards would be erected regardless because the county is essentially "built out" as far as outdoor advertising is concerned, zoning administrator George L. Beisser told a small group of concerned residents.

Billboards, other than those that existed before Aug. 17, 1965, are allowed only in commercial and business zones. The only way more billboards could be built, Beisser said, would be for the county to rezone additional property for commercial and industrial use.

Valerie Schultz, first vice president of the South Carroll Business Association, is among those who want billboards removed.

"I am adamantly opposed to billboards," she told Beisser last night at a meeting to discuss proposed changes in the county sign ordinance.

Schultz, chairwoman of a South Carroll beautification project, said her group planted 160 trees along Route 26, but the trees can't be seen because of the plethora of signs along the route.

"All those things are distracting," she said. "I will not patronize people who advertise on billboards."

David O'Callaghan, Finksburg Planning Area Council president, said he couldn't find a Westminster business because billboards and other signs on Route 140 obscured it.

But even if the county was able to force removal of signs, it might not help the situation because the county has a different sign law from its eight municipalities, Beisser told residents.

Even if billboard removal were approved by the County Commissioners, which is unlikely, the process could take several years, Beisser said. The Supreme Court has ruled that billboard companies must be allowed time to remove billboards or be compensated for loss of business.

Billboards weren't the only signs drawing fire last night.

Hampstead Town Manager Neil Ridgely complained about temporary signs that appear on weekends advertising home sales and the like. Ridgely wanted to know if residents could help state highway officials dispose of such signs that are posted illegally.

Beisser said Prince George's County has implemented a program that trains volunteers about which temporary signs can be legally uprooted.

"Montgomery County has been very active [in this area] and is doing very well," Beisser said.

"One of my recommendations," Beisser told the assembly of 18 people, "will be to form an ad hoc committee of representatives of the county, the towns, the Chamber of Commerce, the farm community, and the sign industry to come up with alternatives."

He is not "a proponent or opponent to any type of sign," Beisser said. "My job is to enforce the sign laws" under direction of the planning commission and the County Commissioners, he said.

Last night's informational meeting was the third that Beisser has held on proposed changes in the sign law. He met earlier with representatives of the sign and billboard industry and with the Chamber of Commerce.

Pub Date: 7/30/98

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