City and Cordish Co. at odds over signs

Officials say banners, sandwich boards illegal

April 22, 2004|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Cordish Co.'s new 600-space Inner Harbor parking garage may be the best-advertised spot in downtown Baltimore.

Four large banners adorn it and the Cordish-run Power Plant complex a block away. Three street-level sandwich-board signs urge drivers to use the garage at 711 E. Pratt St.

But according to city zoning and public works officials, those temporary signs are as illegal as they are visible - a claim disputed by the Cordish Co.

The disagreement has placed customary allies - the city and one of Baltimore's most successful developers - on opposite sides. Baltimore Development Corp., the city economic development arm, "brought this situation to zoning's attention," said BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie.

City officials say they are upholding regulations meant to avoid sign clutter along the waterfront and to protect the public from signs that could blow over or obstruct pedestrians.

Cordish argues it has done nothing wrong and wants to focus instead on its efforts to enhance the design of the garage, which will cost more than $15 million when work is completed.

"For us to be hassled on some temporary banners is ridiculous when you consider the lengths we went to [to] make what we think most consider the most aesthetically pleasing garage in the city," said Reed Cordish, a company vice president.

The city's zoning office has issued two violation notices for the signs on the two buildings. Cordish did not seek permits, nor is it certain the applications would have been approved.

If the signs are still up Monday, the office will cite Cordish and refer the matter to housing court, where fines of $500 a day are possible, said Michael Savino, superintendent for zoning enforcement.

"They know better," Savino said. "You have an experienced developer who knows permits are required whenever you do things in town."

Separately, another city agency has left three phone messages with Cordish Co., saying the street-level signs are in the public right of way and must be moved.

A certified letter will be sent soon, and if the signs aren't gone after 10 days, the city will remove them, said Martha Grande, supervisor of the Minor Privilege Office, which handles right-of-way issues.

Reed Cordish said Cordish Co. disagrees that permits are needed for the temporary signs on the buildings and intends to challenge the notices. "While you're awaiting permanent signage, you're allowed to put up temporary banners," he said.

Cordish said he hoped soon to make final plans for permanent signs, which will need the city's blessing. Andrew Frank, BDC's executive vice president, said the agency is eager for that step.

For now, Frank said, he is concerned about the temporary signs, particularly the two large banners on the Power Plant faM-gade because they advertise a business in another building.

"There are more signs directing people to that garage than there are to the new visitor center in the Inner Harbor," Frank said. "If we had every developer doing that, we'd have a real problem downtown."

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