Bill would limit signs pointing to home sales


Michael Bussacca feels lost in the forest of real estate developers' signs that sprout every weekend in his community of Cub Hill.

For the past eight months, Mr. Bussacca has waged a lonely fight to get more restrictions on the signs, which are technically illegal in the first place.

Marsha Weber runs a small business in Rosedale that makes wrought iron railings. She employs eight workers. Over 70 percent of her work is for builders of new homes.

Mrs. Weber is worried that limits on the signs that direct people to new developments could hurt house sales -- and her livelihood The Baltimore County Planning Board is developing legislation that it hopes will satisfy them both.

On Thursday, the board voted to hold a public hearing June 17 on a bill drafted by the zoning administrator's office, the Office of Planning and Zoning, and representatives of the homebuilding industry.

It would limit the number of directional signs for any one development to 36 within a three-mile radius. It would also allow the signs to be displayed only between 4 p.m. Fridays and 11:59 p.m. Sundays.

Arnold E. Jablon, the county zoning administrator, said the proposed legislation would put into law a policy that has been in effect for the last 30 years. Before the policy was instituted by then-Zoning Commissioner Jack Rose, real estate directional signs were not permitted at all, said Mr. Jablon.

And the policy actually is contrary to county code, which forbids any signs on county property. It also violates county zoning regulations that prohibit any signs on rights of way, Mr. Jablon said.

One new wrinkle in the proposal is a requirement that homebuilders provide zoning officials with a map showing the exact location of their signs. This should make enforcement easier, Mr. Jablon said.

"That map and the location of a particular sign, as well as the name on the sign, would be the presumptive proof of responsibility should there be a violation," he said.

Mr. Jablon said there have been 48 violations of the directional real estate sign regulations in the last three months. Most of the complaints to his office come from the county's growth areas -- the White Marsh-Perry Hall corridor and the Owings Mills-Reisterstown corridor.

While a special task force has been studying all the county's sign regulations, the homebuilding and real estate industries persuaded County Executive Roger B. Hayden and the County Council to deal separately with temporary signs put up by developers and apartment managers, Mr. Jablon said.

Homebuilding industry officials say the real estate directional signs account for 46 percent of the traffic that comes to developments and apartment complexes, and at least 20 percent of their sales and rentals.

"With the industry being depressed in the last few years, this makes the use of the directional signs even more important now," said Tom Carski, president of the Baltimore County Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

Industry representatives addressed the board, even though the meeting was not a public hearing. Speaking in favor of the proposed legislation, they claimed the signs were vital to an industry that directly employs 5,000 workers in the county, sold 2,600 new homes last year and accounted for $3.1 million in real estate and piggyback income taxes.

Mr. Carski said other metropolitan counties either have no regulations or have recently eased existing rules for the temporary signs.

He also said homebuilders purchase supplies or services from ++ 114 small-business people, more than half of whom are located in Baltimore County. He said they, too, could be hurt by a sales downturn.

Mrs. Weber, for example, opened her small shop five years ago and still considers it a "struggling business." She said she was concerned enough about the issue to come to the planning board meeting.

"My business depends on how well the homebuilders are doing in Baltimore County," she said. "I also know as a consumer how important these signs can be."

Mr. Carski called the proposed legislation "a fair compromise."

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