The Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday that a huge painting on a downtown building that featured Cal Ripken Jr. and a Nike logo violated the city's zoning ordinance, finding that the image was an advertisement, not art.
The ruling came in an appeal brought by Eller Media Co., which was cited for violating the city zoning ordinance after it put up a Volkswagen advertisement in the same space that had been home to the Ripken image.
The city Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals had reasoned in 1993 that the 1,472-square-foot Ripken picture on the side of 28 Light St. was art, but later found the Volkswagen sign, erected in 1999, to be an advertisement.
The state's intermediate appellate court dismissed the city's theory that the Ripken image was art and permitted under the zoning code. The court found that both signs should have been disallowed under the zoning ordinance's prohibition of general advertising signs larger than 900 square feet.
In 1993, the zoning board allowed the Nike ad featuring Ripken to be placed on the building, reasoning that the Nike logo was small so the picture could be considered a mural "which gives homage to one of the City's local sports [heroes]."
But the court ruled that allowing the Ripken mural was "an unlawful act" because it was "unquestionably a general advertising sign" and found that "the board had no lawful authority to permit a general advertising sign of more than 900 square feet."
When Eller tried to take advantage of the large spot and posted the Volkswagen sign in 1999, the zoning board took action, saying the sign was "general advertising" and violated the zoning ordinance.
Eller filed an appeal to Baltimore Circuit Court, arguing that the Ripken mural opened the door for it to have ad space on the building.
The Circuit Court upheld the board's decision, which Eller appealed to the higher court.