To preserve the aesthetics of their town's business district, Hampstead officials have ordered about a dozen merchants to take down or alter illegal signs.
The town's zoning code specifies the size, placement and content of all signs and requires owners to obtain zoning certificates for business and outdoor advertising.
"Essentially, most temporary signs and banners violate the town's zoning laws and must be removed within five days of our notifying the business owner of a violation, said Neil Ridgely, Hampstead's town manager.
Only signs erected before current regulations were amended in 1986 are exempt, he said.
Enforcement of the zoning code falls to the town manager, Mr. Ridgely said, and "like it or not," Hampstead merchants have complied and removed signs he has deemed illegal.
Some business owners say they need more exposure, but a majority in the business district along Main Street seem to be genuinely concerned about aesthetics, he said.
"I don't believe any [owners] are intentionally trying to break the law," Mr. Ridgely said. "They're just good people trying to make a living."
When complaints about a sign are received, often from other merchants, he investigates, Mr. Ridgely said.
"We're mainly talking about movable signs, sandwich boards and banners that are up for a period of time and add to the general visual clutter," he said.
Mr. Ridgely said he would not identify any of the dozen businesses found to be violating the zoning code.
"We're not out to embarrass anyone or make any enemies," he said.
Nor has the town tried to hassle anyone advertising events or sales. "We didn't cite anyone for signs advertising the [annual] Hampstead Business Expo [last month], and we haven't been concerned about the Boy Scouts putting up signs promoting their Christmas tree sale," he said.
In general, the Hampstead code permits small signs advertising home businesses, farm produce, real estate or construction work, and those giving directions or information, provided they are not in a right of way and do not interfere with traffic visibility.
No one found to be violating the sign code has appealed, Mr. Ridgely said.
Pub Date: 3/06/96