A team of five code enforcement officers is involved in a beefed-up effort to clear roadsides of prohibited advertising placards.

Baltimore County targets illegal roadside ad signs

December 30, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

They cropped up yesterday the minute Mark Gawel steered his county-owned Jeep Cherokee onto the Beltway exit leading to eastbound Liberty Road - so many signs in red and white and black and yellow, all illegally stuck in the grass or on telephone poles.

Gawel and fellow Baltimore County code enforcement officer Ed Creed hopped out. They uprooted signs advertising stores, real estate deals and church functions, clipped others off electrical poles, dumped them all in the back of the Jeep, then drove a few yards down the street and started over.

Within a few hours, the back of the vehicle was filled, three businesses had been warned, and another, whose signs dotted the road from inside the Beltway to Milford Mill Road, had received a correction notice ordering its owners to remove the offending placards or be fined at $200 per day per sign.

"It's not just taking them and never going back," Creed said. "You've got to make that personal contact. That's where they know you mean business."

Gawel and Creed are part of a team of five code enforcement officers that has spent the past month or so scouring the streets and roads of Baltimore County as part of a beefed-up effort to enforce county rules on illegal signs.

In that time, said Gawel, the team coordinator, the officers have collected at least 1,000 signs. They have talked to the offending businesses, encouraged them to comply and cited those that insisted on keeping the placards in the public rights of way or displayed them in other ways prohibited by the county code.

Their efforts, Gawel said, are an active alternative to the reactive way the county has enforced its sign regulations in the past. Instead of one code enforcement officer handling violations mainly through complaints, four or five are inspecting the streets daily, in addition to other duties, he said.

Since the campaign started, Gawel said, he has noticed fewer signs, but he figures businesses might be lying low for a while, hoping the county will give up.

"Somebody's getting the message, but it'll come back," he said.

The county has cracked down on violators before. In 1997, workers cleared nearly 20,000 illegal signs, issued warnings and held up the permit process for offenders, raising the hackles of homebuilders, who said the efforts were hurting sales.

The signs have been a recurring problem, and officials said they decided to take a more aggressive approach into the new year during what is traditionally a slower season for complaints.

"We're not looking to pad the treasury in the county," said Timothy M. Kotroco, director of permits and development management.

During yesterday's enforcement activities along Liberty Road, Gawel and Creed not only plucked signs from the ground, but they also called offenders and issued a correction notice to Alko Clothing and Shoe Outlet, an area business whose workers had put up yellow and black signs along Liberty Road a few days earlier.

Francesco Deitos, the store's regional manager, said Alko officials had seen similar Kmart signs and figured the practice was legal.

"It'll be taken care of," Deitos assured Creed.

Kmart has since been cited for sign violations, said Creed, who said he has collected as many as 162 illegal signs in a day.

"There aren't a lot of us, but eventually we catch up to them," he said.

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