Huge sign removed from marquee still an issue in District 1 race Extra time Merdon had oversized banner up 'unfair,' Layman says

October 13, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Almost two months after he was told to remove an illegal campaign banner from the old Elkridge Drive-In theater on U.S. 1, Howard County Council candidate Christopher J. Merdon took down the sign.

Merdon, a Republican who is running to succeed outgoing District 1 Councilman Darrel E. Drown, abandoned his plan Friday to appeal the violation notice issued Aug. 17 by the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits because the Board of Appeals would not be able to schedule a hearing until January. The sign came down Saturday.

"If I'm not going to get a hearing before [the] Nov. 3 [general election], I might as well take it down," the software developer said in an interview Friday. "Why pay the $325 [administrative fee] and not get a hearing until after the election?"

But his opponent, Democrat George L. Layman, said that Merdon has benefited from weeks of free advertising.

"It's very unfair," said Layman, a limousine driver and member of the Board of Appeals whose complaint sparked the violation notice. "I think the county was dragging its feet on this one."

The issue began in August when Merdon said he asked the county's sign code administrator, James W. Rawle, if he could post an 80-square-foot banner on a billboard. He acknowledged he never told Rawle that he wanted to erect the sign on the marquee of the former drive-in theater -- only that he wanted to put the banner on a billboard.

Rawle said the omission is significant because, unlike a billboard, a marquee is designed to advertise events on the property where it is located. And unlike the rule for billboards, the maximum size for a sign posted on a marquee is limited to 32 square feet.

"If I had known that [Merdon] was talking about putting up a sign on the drive-in marquee, I would have told him 'no,' " Rawle said.

However, Merdon disputed Rawle's definition of a marquee. "Ask any layperson out there about what it is, and he will say it's a billboard," he said. "I feel like the county gave me the wrong information."

After Layman complained about the banner, Rawle sent a letter dated Aug. 17 to Merdon ordering him to remove his "oversized political campaign sign."

The next day, Merdon asked the department director, David M. Hammerman, to suspend the order until he could apply for a variance to maintain the banner. But he later decided to drop his request and had it removed last weekend.

Layman, however, contends that the county should have forced his opponent to take down the banner immediately after he didn't file a request for a variance last month.

"We're talking about two months of almost nothing being done," Layman said. "I'm disappointed in the county."

Councilman Drown, who has endorsed Merdon for the seat, downplayed the controversy and blasted Layman.

"To me, it smacks of 'I don't have anything better to do, so I'll complain about a sign,' " he said. "As far as I'm concerned, it does nothing to mar his [Merdon's] standing in the community, and it shows what kind of tactics George is willing to go to."

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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