Five workshops set to discuss plans for all-terrain vehicle restrictions

Officials are also considering countywide noise ordinance, limits on electronic message signs

Carroll County

September 16, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County zoning and environmental officials will seek public comment at five workshops around the county to discuss their plans to set limits on recreational all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes.

The 7 p.m. meetings have been scheduled for Sept. 29 in Room 003 of the County Office Building; Oct. 4 at the North Carroll Senior Center; Oct. 18 at the Mount Airy Senior Center; Oct. 20 at Oklahoma Road Middle School and Oct. 27 at Runnymede Elementary School.

County zoning administrator Neil M. Ridgely said that after gathering citizens' comments, a proposed ordinance would be drafted and subject to a public hearing before passage.

"You're going to hear a lot from both sides," Ridgely told the county commissioners Tuesday. "People are all over the spectrum on this issue."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge agreed. "It's probably one of the most controversial issues," she said, noting that she had received several calls, including one from a homeowner complaining that a proposed setback requirement from a neighboring property would only allow riding up and down a line in the middle of the homeowner's property.

Commissioner Perry L. Jones said a nature trail had been ruined for walkers by a 12-year-old boy on a vehicle "riding like a nut."

Several Carroll municipalities have banned the vehicles in town limits. Hampstead banned the recreational off-road vehicles Tuesday night.

Last week, the commissioners were briefed on plans for Carroll's first-ever noise ordinance - which arose primarily from residents' complaints about the off-road vehicles. A proposed ordinance would set hours and decibel limits and would be enforced by the Sheriff's Department, said James E. Slater Jr., the planning department's deputy director of environment and resource protection.

Also Tuesday, Ridgely received approval from the commissioners to draft a proposed amendment to the county's sign ordinance that would set some restrictions on the increasingly popular LEDs (light-emitting diodes) or electronic message boards.

"We're going to see a lot more of these signs ... and it's better to get out ahead of the issue," said Ridgely, estimating that there may be about a dozen signs in Carroll. "In a year or two, you might have 40 signs. It's a driver-distraction issue, as well as aesthetic.

"You can see a proliferation of these when you go to a place like Ocean City," he said. "It's cool in Ocean City; it's not really what you want to see here."

Three daytime meetings have been held, which were open to the public but primarily drew businesses that were inclined to oppose restrictions, he told the county commissioners. Ridgely said he hopes to have a draft in about three weeks, which would be reviewed by the county attorney and subject to a public hearing before being passed into law.

The LED signs can display multiple messages and graphics - "American flags, dancing babies, tractors" - and could create a distraction for motorists, Ridgely said. A restaurant on Route 140 at the Carroll-Baltimore county line has "16 different messages within a 30-second span, on what is considered a rather hazardous road segment," Ridgely said.

Ridgely said he has "just a few specific limits" in mind: setting size, the distance from traffic lights and stop signs, and time limits, such as requiring that a message be displayed for six to 10 seconds before changing.

Ridgely said some laws he has looked at have banned the signs outright, while other restrict just graphics and scrolling.

"Common sense tells me that's a distraction if I'm trying to drive and read that message, particularly when you scroll," he said. "I'm not looking for a ban of the signs at all. It's something I know as zoning administrator is on the radar screen. I see other jurisdictions addressing this."

The Hampstead Town Council voted in December to keep such signs out of town after its planning commission allowed one at a Main Street car dealership, said Town Manger Ken Decker.

"The variable electronic message signs are prohibited, except at North Carroll High School," which had its installed in July 2002, he said. "It was not consistent with Main Street beautification. I think Ocean City, Atlantic City is not what the mayor and council wanted to have as a streetscape."

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