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Panel eyes deal allowing ads on bus-stop shelters


A City Council committee took up legislation yesterday on bus shelter advertising that would depart from the city's recently enacted ban on billboard construction, the first bill signed into law by Mayor Martin O'Malley.

The mayor has made it clear he supports the concept of a three-way deal among the city, Mass Transit Administration and advertising industry that would exchange advertising space on new bus shelters for the industry's contracting to construct and clean those shelters.

O'Malley's spokesman, Tony White, said a maintenance agreement is attractive to a city struggling to make financial ends meet: "We don't have the work force or staff to accommodate bus stops."

White drew a distinction between bus shelters and billboards: "[Billboards] are huge, along I-83, next to the skyline, neighborhoods, foliage. This is a bus stop ad, confined to a certain area where it won't overshadow."

But critics who registered views in City Hall said outdoor advertising would show up most where the city needs it least -- residential neighborhoods.

"You're really selling us out. We weren't even included," Pamela Paige, 43, of Hanlon Park scolded the Land Use and Planning Committee chaired by 1st District Councilwoman Lois A. Garey. It was not clear yesterday if or when the committee would take the bill to the council floor.

Rebekah Kennedy, co-chairwoman of the Friends of Mount Vernon Place, said she feared bus shelter advertising would harm the square's "19th-century ambiance."

Garey said she believes the bill, which MTA officials hoped would pass quickly, is far from finished. "The legislation is not ready. It's definitely not sausage yet," she said after listening to the Citizens Planning and Housing Association urge compromise and neighborhood leaders from Otterbein, Mount Vernon, Remington, Charles Village and Ashburton voice dissenting views.

"I personally think the MTA should have done more homework," Garey said, questioning the decision of MTA officials to issue a request for proposals with a May 10 deadline. She also instructed city legal officials to clarify whether the bill jeopardizes the new billboard ban.

Thomas E. Hampton, senior government relations officer for the MTA, told the committee the contract calls for 300 new bus shelters in the first five years of a 10-year contract. Currently, he said, the MTA employs two people to clean 334 bus shelters, which he acknowledged is inadequate. "The key is need," he said. Four out of five new shelters would have advertising, he said.

Stanley S. Fine, a lawyer representing the advertising industry, said yesterday that this type of arrangement is "done all over the country," naming Washington and Annapolis as examples.

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