FINKSBURG IS ONE of Carroll County's gateway communities, an entry point into its charming agricultural countryside that leaves an impression on those who visit and do business here.
That impression, many Finksburg residents believe, is being marred by huge billboards advertising everything from local businesses to Baltimore-area nightclubs.
"People are driving up through a relatively unscathed watershed in Baltimore County, they cross the county line and - boom - they are struck with this incredible amount of litter on a stick," said Neil Ridgely, communications director for Finksburg Planning Area Council.
The council, an organization of more than 100 Finksburg-area residents, formed about four years ago with the goal of voicing their concerns about growth and other issues in their community.
Recently, the group issued a report card, grading the county commissioners on a wide variety of topics. On the topic of billboards, the commissioners received a D, in a scale that ranked A as "excellent" and F as "failing."
"One commissioner told us to take a leap in a lake with it, while another commissioner thought we had some merit with our concerns," said Ridgely, who has been concerned about the aesthetics of billboards for more than 20 years.
The group says it enjoys broad-based support for its views among the public.
"The residents all like the area they live in, and they all have valid concerns about property values," Ridgely said. "The county is far more concerned with property rights than property values.
"People always say they don't want Route 140 to look like Pulaski Highway. In some ways, it now looks worse than Pulaski Highway, and the billboards are an element of that," he said.
Although several new billboards have appeared over the past few years, most of the growth has been in the size of the signs, Ridgely said. Small billboards owned by a local company have been acquired by a large, out-of-county firm, he said.
"Through a loophole in the law, they have dramatically increased the size of those signs," Ridgely said.
Ridgely acknowledges billboards can serve the purpose of informing tourists about lodging, restaurants and other attractions in Carroll County. But he said he would like the county to consider alternatives to the billboard situation.
"There may be some middle ground," he said, adding that perhaps billboard owners could be persuaded to install smaller signs, or the county could sponsor generic signs similar to those seen along federal highways that advertise various services.
The council wants the opportunity to talk with organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, which support the billboards, about the issue.
Residents interested in learning more about Finksburg Planning Area Council and its projects can visit its Web site at www.finksburg.com, or contact Ridgely online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eating for the arts
The second annual Italian Hoagie Eating Contest to benefit Carroll County Arts Council's Musical Instrument Bank offers a chance to chow down on submarine sandwiches and support the arts in Carroll County.
The contest, open to anyone age 18 or older who pays the $10 entry fee, will take place from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at Giulianova Groceria at 11 E. Main St. in Westminster.
People can also participate by placing a bet on who they believe will eat the most that afternoon. Pledge buckets will be placed in front of each contestant to collect contributions from the public.
Prizes will go to the contestant who eats the most hoagies and to the person who collects the most money for the instrument bank, which cleans and repairs donated musical instruments for children who can't afford them.
Participants must register by July 31.
Amy L. Miller's Central neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.