Hospital, neighbors rejoin fight over signs

St. Joseph officials, Towson residents head for zoning confrontation

August 16, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

It's the time of the signs.

After more than a year of negotiations and bickering, St. Joseph Medical Center and Towson residents will appear Wednesday before the Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner to battle once again over four entrance signs the hospital wants to build.

St. Joseph officials say they want to help visitors find the Towson facility more easily. Community leaders say the billboard-like signs will make the nearby residential area look too commercial and spoil the view. Because the two sides cannot see eye to eye after a year of meetings, both have hired attorneys.

Compromises fail

"I don't know what this is all about," said Sean Flanagan, St. Joseph's community and government relations manager. "We've put a lot of planning into the aesthetics of all this. We've postponed this for more than a year to work with residents.

"We dropped other parts of the proposal when the community objected," Flanagan added. "Our compromises just weren't good enough."

The proposal calls for four signs to be placed by each of the entrances to the hospital -- one at the original York Road entrance used when the hospital moved to Baltimore County 30 years ago and three at the hospital's entrance to the main building, the emergency room and service area on Osler Drive.

Directions for patients

Flanagan said the hospital wanted to put a new emphasis on the Osler Drive entrances because of the safety hazard motorists confront turning off York Road. He said that 85 percent of the hospital's patients are from areas outside Towson and are not familiar with the facility's location.

"I've walked to my car and had people ask me where the entrance was," Flanagan said. "They're driving around lost. It's hard for people to distinguish our signs from other institutions in the area."

To help patients and visitors, hospital officials are requesting a variance from county government, which went to great lengths in 1997 to create an ordinance that limits the shape, size and numbers of signs in the county.

At 13 feet tall, St. Joseph's illuminated signs would be 7 feet higher than the county allows. Hospital officials said the larger design would prevent passing vehicles from blocking the signs from other motorists.

`Air of commercialism'

"To have these huge signs in the middle of our neighborhood really gives off the air of commercialism," said Jean Duvall, a Rodgers Forge resident who leads a core group of Towson community associations that oppose the signs, including Wiltondale, Yorkleigh, Aigburth Manor and West Towson.

"We do feel that it would set a precedent if this variance was approved," Duvall said. "It would create a proliferation of signs."

Community leaders believe St. Joseph can adequately direct motorists if the hospital moves its signs closer to the road, trims tree branches and ornamental grass in front of the signs and puts more signs on campus to direct patients to buildings.

"We have worked on many issues in the past with St. Joe's," Duvall said. "But I believe this is the first time we have been in there as protestants rather than participants."

Added Towson attorney Francis X. Borgerdine Jr., "The community doesn't feel they [hospital officials] are legally or practically justified in this matter. We feel there are a number of things the hospital can do in regards to the sign without getting variances. That's just not necessary."

Pub Date: 8/16/99

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