The Baltimore County Council is considering legislation to protect Towson's scenic Charles Street corridor from modern electronic signage.
The bill, which was introduced Wednesday by Council members David Marks and Vicki Almond, would ban electronic changeable copy signs on National Scenic Byways. The tree-lined stretch of Charles Street between the Baltimore City line and the Beltway, which winds through golf courses and past historic hospitals and schools, is the only such byway in Baltimore County.
"It's something we've been wanting to do the past several years," Marks said. "We've been seeing these digital signs really take root throughout the county. That's a corridor I think deserves special protections because it's a scenic route."
Charles Street is the dividing line between Marks' district, which stretches from Towson to Perry Hall, and Almond's, which includes northwest Baltimore County.
"Charles Street is a special route in Baltimore County, one of the most beautiful in Maryland, and it deserves protection to keep it this way," Almond said in a statement.
County code presently bans changeable copy signs in historic districts and outside of the Urban Rural Demarcation Line, Marks said in a statement. Changeable signs are those that can be programmed with varying messages.
Shortly after the pair took office in 2011, controversy over a set of electronic signs at West Towson Elementary and Ridge Ruxton on Charles Street brought the issue to the council members' attention, Marks said. Those signs were eventually removed, with the electronic components moved for use at the Towson Library in downtown.
Marks said any changeable copy signs within the corridor, including those at the gas stations near the corner of Stevenson Lane and Charles Street, would be grandfathered in.
"We're just trying to be proactive here," Marks said.
Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said the organization discussed the bill at its Jan. 16 work session and voted to support it.
Marks has taken up several signage issues since he was elected in 2010. In 2011, Marks introduced and passed legislation that allowed for expanded signage on the Towson City Center building. The initial legislation, which was passed in October of that year, allowed for large signage on the building, and kept the developers from having to navigate the variance process for signage.
But after community opposition, Marks revisited the bill to add a height limit to electronic signs and further restrict the signage to Towson City Center.
The bill ultimately allowed signs for tenants MileOne Automotive and Towson University, as well as changeable copy along the annex of the building for WTMD.
In 2013, Marks banned neon signs and set strict stipulations for bail bondsmen in East Towson, near the District Court on East Chesapeake Avenue.
The Charles Street signage bill will be considered at a council work session on Tuesday, Feb. 11, before a Feb. 18 vote.