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Deadline nears for compliance with new sign law

Laws and LegislationJustice SystemBusinessDavid MarksTodd Huff

Since passing earlier this year, a law enacted in September that limits signage around the District Courthouse in Towson has been in the sights of the area's bail bonds businesses.

Yet as the deadline for complying with the law approaches, attorneys representing the bail bonds business owners are still searching for ways their clients can comply and avoid paying fines that have been accruing at a cost of $200 a day.

The deadline to bring the signage into compliance is Thursday, Oct. 10.

The bill regulating the signage, introduced in January by Councilman David Marks, was originally written with language specifically targeting bail bonds business owners located just north of the District Court of Maryland on East Chesapeake Avenue. The measure was later rewritten to apply to all businesses within 600 feet of the historic East Towson community, while still promoted as a means of limiting the proliferation of bail bondsman signs in the area.

At the time, Marks called the signs "gaudy," and cited their proximity to East Towson and a senior living home on Virginia Avenue.

The law now requires freestanding signs within 600 feet of historic East Towson to have a landscaped or masonry foundation, and limits neon signs to 4 square feet in size.

Just after the law went into effect in early September, Greater Towson Council of Community Associations President Paul Hartman said he submitted code enforcement complaints for Double D Bail Bonds at 11 East Chesapeake Ave., Elite Bail Bonds at 25 East Chesapeake Ave., and Bail Bonds Inc. at 406 Virginia Ave.

County officials said that the correction notices were issued to the three businesses requiring that the signs be in compliance by Oct. 10. As of Monday, attorneys for two of the business owners cited said there was no plan yet in place to either fight or comply with the law. A representative for Elite declined to comment.

In May, Towson-based attorney John Turnbull and his client, Calvin Jones, owner of Bail Bonds Inc. said they planned to challenge any citations that stemmed from the new legislation. Bail Bonds Inc. has a large, illuminated orange billboard outside of its office that has drawn complaints from residents. Turnbull and Jones claimed the county approved the sign and that county officials are "bullying" the businesses.

On Monday, Turnbull said in an email that he is working with Baltimore County "to resolve the issues short of litigation." County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler confirmed those discussions, and said county officials believe the sign will be taken down.

Spencer Gordon, an attorney with the Towson law firm Henslee & Gordon, said he has been working with Double D Bail Bonds to determine what they will do prior to Thursday. That business has a wall sign featuring a busty woman, as well as neon signs in its window.

"We're trying to get in contact with someone from the county to figure out what our options are," Gordon said. "We think the bill unfairly targets our client, and we think it was intended to unfairly target our client."

Hartman said the large orange sign "generated a huge amount of complaints to the [Greater Towson Council of Community Associations], and nobody was happy when the Double D sign showed up a couple years ago right by the library."

"All of these have been ongoing issues that people have complained about," Hartman said.

All of the signage was approved through the county permit process prior to installation, and was in compliance until the new law passed.

Marks, who sponsored the legislation at the request of concerned community members, said "the prospect of code enforcement always matters." Marks thanked fellow Councilman Todd Huff, the administration, and the businesses for working with the county on the matter.

"I think if (the law) helps clean up an area that was starting to look blighted, then it was a positive effect," Marks said.

Lionel van Dommelen, chief of the county's community code enforcement division, said the code inspector would likely be back to check on the business' compliance on Friday. If the businesses do not comply, they could be subject to a fine of $200 per day, retroactive to the initial correction note on Sept. 10, van Dommelen said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Laws and LegislationJustice SystemBusinessDavid MarksTodd Huff
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