A small army removing illegal signs from roads

County, Md. team up in 3-day campaign

October 24, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

A small army of Howard County inspectors and state and county highway workers are out this week removing illegally placed business signs that "pop up like dandelions," according to County Executive Ken Ulman.

Standing before a display of more than a dozen small, cardboard signs confiscated from county roadway medians and shoulders, Ulman and Bob Francis, county director of inspections, licenses and permits, said the three-day campaign that ends tomorrow is intended as a warning.

Letters will be sent to first-time offenders. If inspectors continue to see an illegal sign, a written violation notice will follow. The sign owner will have 10 days to remove the sign before fines may be assessed. A first offense can cost $50 per sign per day, doubled for second offenders. Residents can use the county's Web site under "What's New" to report violations.

Ulman said residents complained to him at a public forum in July about the proliferation of small business signs placed illegally on public property along roads throughout the county.

"My frustration is at the number of illegal signs around the county. It gets worse and worse," Ulman said.

But removing the signs is not enough, he said. The county needs to track down the business owners and get them to stop littering the roadways.

"This is a blitz, like a shot across the bow," Francis said Monday at a news conference.

Instead of leaving the job to the county's one full-time sign inspector, Ulman said 30 county inspectors and 100 highway workers, as well as state highway employees, are scouring county roads for the signs.

One of Jim Horvath's blue signs for Hearty Haulers was part of the display at the news conference. Horvath claimed ignorance of the law.

"I'm only 22. I started a business. I saw other signs out so I did it, too," he said.

Sandy Slacum, who owns a modeling business on Little Patuxent Parkway, said she put signs up on weekends after asking the real estate agent in an upstairs office what they do.

"I saw everybody else do it," she said.

Other businesses advertised on signs posted at the news conference ranged from those offering dating and modeling services to a tae kwan do studio, an offer to buy homes and roof repairs.

Francis said real estate signs are allowed on weekends, but sometimes agents exceed the four allowed to direct visitors to a house, for example, or allow the signs to stay up too long.

Large lease signs in front of office buildings are another issue, said Lloyd Knowles, a former County Council member, who brought photos to Ulman's news conference.

"I hope they move across the board," on these semipermanent signs, as well as the small cardboard variety in roadway medians, he said.

Knowles gave Ulman his photos, and complained that some business-lease signs seem to stay up forever.

Francis said businesses can legally erect signs advertising office space that are up to 32 square feet in area, if they get a county permit.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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