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Towson community groups support Charles Street sign ban

Representatives from Towson-area community groups spoke largely in favor Tuesday of a Baltimore County Council bill that will ban further electronic signage on Charles Street in Towson, with dissenters only asking that the law apply elsewhere in the county.

“Charles Street is a heavily used north-south corridor, but it still has a significant amount of green area around it,” Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said at Tuesday’s council work session. “The Towson area is undergoing a tremendous amount of growth currently, and in five or 10 years, there will be pressure on that corridor for more development.

“Here is a chance to make any potential future development be in keeping with that scenic byway,” Hartman said.

Charles Street, which stretches from inside Baltimore City north into Towson, is designated as a National Historic Byway. The bill, which was introduced last month by Councilwoman Vicki Almond and Councilman David Marks, prohibits electronic changeable copy signs on National Scenic Byways in Baltimore County — and Charles Street is the only one.

“It’s roughly 12 miles… of nearly unbroken local and national register historic sites, and this bill would prohibit electronic changeable copy signs as it does in other historic districts and rural areas of the county,” said Almond, whose 2nd District is bounded by Charles Street on the east.

Marks, who represents the 5th District, including Towson, and whose district is bounded by Charles Street on the west, said there was “real economic value” in keeping the corridor pristine.

A pair of representatives from the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area Improvement Association, which represents 3,000 homes west of Charles Street in Towson, also spoke in support of the legislation.

Peggy Squitieri, the organization’s executive director, said Charles Street “serves as a beautiful gateway for not only our communities, but for the entire Towson area.”

“We feel like Charles Street represents a resource much larger than our community,” said Elise Butler, a board member from the RRLRAIA who chairs its zoning committee. “It’s a national treasure in our midst.”

Some, however, pressed the council to enact such bans elsewhere in the county. Mike Pierce, a Kingsville resident who frequently testifies before the council on signage issues, said he would “certainly support this bill if it applied to the whole county.”

Pierce said that the 2008 law that banned electronic changeable copy signage in historic disticts and outside the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line only applies to businesses and shopping centers, leaving loopholes for institutions such as independent schools and churches.

“This offers a chance to fix a long-standing error,” Pierce said.

Patricia Bentz, executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County, said she would “love to see unanimous support” for the bill, despite its limited scope.

“I’m not sure why we’re limiting it to the National Scenic Byways,” she said. “I would love to see it applied to the Maryland Scenic Byways, of which there are more districts involved.”

The bill will be called for a full council vote on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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