In the face of a groundswell to remove what community members say is extravagant signage advertising bail bonds businesses in Towson, Councilman David Marks said Thursday, Jan. 17, that he was considering sponsoring legislation to ban the signage.
"I have had dozens of people talk about this with me," Marks, who represents the 5th District including Towson, said. "It's not just residents, it's business owners and other leaders in government. This has kind of become the big story over the last two weeks."
At a meeting of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations Thursday night, Marks said that the legislation to limit bail bonds businesses to one sign no larger than 6 square feet with no illumination would be submitted at the council's Tuesday, Jan. 22, meeting if the county and the owners of Bail Bonds Inc. cannot privately reach an agreement on reducing the business' signage.
Bail Bonds Inc. is one of two businesses that have drawn the attention of Marks and his constituents.
Double D Bail Bonds, located at 11 E. Chesapeake Ave., opened over a year ago with signage that some thought represented its name a bit too literally. Its logo is a well-endowed female figure with a "D" written over each breast. Marks also said he was "not thrilled" with that business' neon signs, which take up much of its window space.
But according to the councilman, the need for change became more urgent when another company, Bail Bonds Inc. installed a large orange sign near the corner of East Chesapeake and Virginia avenues.
John Turnbull, attorney for Bail Bonds Inc., said the business' owner has a permit for the signs. Even though the sign is legal, Turnbull said he's aware of the complaints and is in discussions with county attorneys "to negotiate something everyone can live with."
"We're trying to stop the issue without litigation," Turnbull said. "At the end of the day, both parties have an incentive to work something out."
Turnbull said that some of Statewide Bail Bonds Inc.'s competitors have been the most vocal about the sign. East Chesapeake Avenue also houses A-1 Bailbonds and Elite Bailbonds, in between other office storefronts and small eateries.
"While I understand bail bonds companies may want to set up shop near the District Court, the proliferation of these businesses is changing the complexion of Chesapeake and Virginia avenues, and not for the better," Marks said in a statement announcing the potential bill. "It was bad enough when one business decided to plaster their windows in neon, but now another has erected a gaudy sign across from a senior citizen home and within a stone's throw of Historic East Towson."
Marks said the county executive's office has been in discussions with attorneys representing the Virginia Avenue shop, but Marks is prepared to introduce legislation on Jan. 22 should those talks not produce results.
The newest sign at Bail Bonds Inc. was made possible by Marks' decision during the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process last summer to up-zone the property on Virginia Avenue from a mix of residential and home office zoning to part of the downtown Towson core. The councilman said "there was a good reason for upzoning," citing development on the other side of the property.
But since the zoning was changed, Bail Bonds Inc. moved from a storefront on Chesapeake Avenue to the Virginia Avenue location and erected the new sign.
"There's sometimes unintended consequences with these things, and I'm trying to correct it," Marks said.
At the Jan. 17 meeting, several neighborhood association leaders asked Marks if further steps could be taken to limit the number of bail bonds companies in Towson.
Marks said he considered outlawing bail bonds businesses in town center business districts; limiting how many can exist within a certain distance of a library; or creating a separate zoning class for bail bonds companies, one which would require that they obtain special exemptions.
The councilman said he believes those measures may face stiffer opposition from his fellow council members, while the sign bill has a greater chance of passing as a matter of councilmanic courtesy.
The signs are a problem, but the existence of bail bonds companies in the Towson core is the greater problem, at least one community member said.
"That whole area could be a very nice business area," said Ed Kilcullen, a former GTCCA president and resident of nearby Towson Manor Village. "It's being taken over by bail bondsmen. We just think it's not good for business; it's not good for residential in the area."
Kilcullen said the signage is "particularly egregious with the bail bondsmen, but we think there could be a lot tighter controls on signage in general."