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Carroll commissioners vote to limit size of billboards

In a move they described as a stopgap solution, Carroll County commissioners passed a law yesterday that sharply reduces the maximum size for billboards across the county.

The new law reduces the maximum height for new billboards from 30 feet to 10 feet and the maximum square footage from 380 square feet to 32 square feet. All proposals for new billboards will be subject to review at public meetings, though the county's almost 400 existing billboards will not be affected.

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The commissioners said they passed the tougher restrictions to stem a recent influx of large billboards, which have drawn criticism from community groups in Finksburg, Eldersburg and Union Mills. But they said yesterday's vote was not their final word on the issue.

"I don't see this as a final answer," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "It looked like we were going to be hit with an avalanche of applications, so we had to do something. ... But I think there's a place for some kind of billboarding in this county."

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Minnich's words pleased billboard industry representatives, who say the new restrictions are among the toughest they have seen and will make it hard for local businesses to advertise effectively.

"Our ultimate goal is to get back with them and county staff and work toward a compromise," said Mark Gamble of Next Media, one of several large billboard companies with interests in Carroll. Carroll residents have called for a crackdown for years, saying the barrage of fast-food and movie advertisements along major roads obscures the county's rural charm.

But Carroll has lagged behind other counties in the Baltimore area in combating billboards. Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County do not allow new billboard sites. Baltimore County has limited the number to about 230. And, Howard County does not allow the signs to remain up for more than a year in the same location.


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