Council approves city signs measure

Bill raises fines, allows removal


THE ORDINANCE — Businesses caught placing signs on telephone poles and along street medians in Baltimore would face not only stiffer penalties but also the wrath of community groups incensed over the practice, under a proposal approved by the City Council yesterday.

The ordinance - the latest intended to increase the quality of life in city neighborhoods - doubles the penalty for posting illegal signs to $200 and directs half of the revenue collected from those fines to the neighborhood groups who organize efforts to rip them down.

"This puts citizens into the effort," said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who authored the legislation. "We're already taking the signs down. Let's reward those who have to suffer the insult."

Neighborhood leaders throughout the city and beyond have registered complaints about the "Work from home" and "We buy homes" signs that have proliferated public spaces, blocking sight lines at busy intersections and cluttering up green spaces along public rights of way.

The council approved the measure unanimously, with one abstention, from Councilwoman Belinda Conaway. A city spokesman said Mayor Martin O'Malley would sign the legislation.

Illegal signs have become an issue in communities across the country, as city and state governments have looked at stepping up penalties.

The Baltimore County Council approved legislation last night that would authorize residents to remove illegal signs, expanding that power beyond certain county employees. The council also set a civil fine of $500 for the posting of illegal signs on public property.

For Baltimore City, Clarke introduced the measure last year but said momentum has grown in the past several months as the number of signs increased with the warmer weather. The ordinance also would specifically allow residents to remove the signs.

The monetary impact of the measure will be small for the city and the designated neighborhood groups expected to receive the revenue collected from penalties.

In the past three years, the city collected $5,700 in fines associated with illegal signs, according to the city Finance Department. Another $139,000 remains unpaid.

Still, the signs have drawn attention from neighborhood groups. Last month, residents of Charles Village, Waverly, Guilford and Ednor Gardens organized an event to tear down illegal signs. Some neighborhood leaders say the advertisements make it appear as though their community is declining.

"They need to come down, and they need to be stopped," said Beth Bullamore, president of the Charles Village Civic Association, which took part in the event last month. "We're all just tired of seeing these signs everywhere. They look tacky."

The sign ban is the second piece of legislation passed by city officials this year aimed at cutting down paper in neighborhoods.

Earlier, the council approved - and O'Malley signed - a ban on fliers placed in doorways and on fences. Businesses placing commercial material on private property, from Chinese takeout menus to advertisements for Realtors, could receive a $50 fine.

Sun reporter Josh Mitchell contributed to this article.

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