Commissioners discuss options for billboards

They won't sign off on proposed moratorium

better upkeep suggested

January 30, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Despite prodding from a panel appointed to beautify entry points into Carroll County, the county commissioners sidestepped a chance to ban new billboards yesterday but left open the possibility that some of the huge highway signs might get a face lift.

Based on recommendations from the Gateway Committee and Economic Development Commission, the commissioners discussed the possibility of banning new billboards yesterday. But Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said she opposes a ban and Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he doesn't have enough information to support such a bold stroke. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge was not present for the discussion.

The county receives 10 to 15 requests a year for new billboards, staff members said. Frazier said she opposes banning billboards because she opposes banning any business. "It's like saying, `I don't like video stores anymore, so let's get rid of them,'" she said.

Dell said he would like the county staff to inventory billboards that don't conform to county laws. If that study shows a widespread problem, he said, he might support a law that would require nonconforming billboards to be taken down within five and a half years.

A separate issue

The Gateway Committee opened the recent round of discussions on billboards with a report last month that suggested a moratorium. Many members of the Economic Development Commission said at a meeting Thursday that they also support a moratorium. But the commissioners have resisted linking a billboard moratorium with the effort to improve Carroll's entry points.

Frazier suggested that the county focus on keeping existing billboards in shape rather than push a moratorium.

"That's more the issue I've been hearing about, that the unsightly ones need to be cleaned up," she said.

The county faces a dilemma because many of its approximately 350 billboards were installed before it had zoning laws. Even if those signs are too tall, too close to the road or on an inappropriate type of ground, such as farmland, the county cannot force a change.

No rules on appearance

Zoning laws that regulate billboards specify no requirements of appearance, so the county can't demand improvements to the tattered, rickety billboards that stand next to Route 140 between Finksburg and Westminster and Liberty Road in South Carroll.

Frazier said the county could nudge billboard owners to spruce up their signs. She noted instances when the commissioners found the contents of billboards offensive and got them taken down.

"I think the billboard owners want the best and most pleasant thing for the county," she said. "They're not unapproachable."

Frazier has said the anti-billboard movement oversteps the bounds of the Gateway Committee's mission.

"I don't think the committee wants to see all the billboards come down, either," said Robert Flickinger, a Taneytown councilman and member of the Gateway Committee. "But we might like to see a stop to the new ones coming in. It's getting cluttered."

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