Hampdenites Fight Proposed New Billboards

by Sharon Price

The Greater Jones Falls Coalition has been formed by the neighborhoods of Hampden, Remington, Woodberry, Medfield, Stone Hill and Brick Hill. The coalition has one purpose: to fight the erection of billboards in the Jones Falls valley and in the nearby neighborhoods.

Currently, the GJFC is fighting three new billboards. One is proposed for the Potts Callahan property and is to be 94 feet high. Another, also erected by Stanley Shelter Advertising, would be 84 feet high and erected on the Correlli Roofing site in the 3100 block of Falls Road. The third, to be located in the 1700 block of Union Avenue, would be erected by Universal Outdoor; its proposed height is 95 feet.

Three years ago, Stone Hill and Brick Hill fought a 115-foot-high billboard proposed for the 3000 block of Falls Road. The fight proceeded through the Baltimore City Zoning Commission, the Circuit Court, and the Court of Special Appeals. It was ultimately disapproved.

This billboard would have been unique in that, although there are many billboards along the Jones Falls, none of them up until this proposal would have been high enough to have a visual impact on the neighborhoods on the hills above the valley.

The first two of the three new proposed signs would be placed roughly equidistant from the 115-foot sign that was disapproved. To the amazement of community GJFC activists, booth signs have been approved by the City's Zoning Department. The GJFC is pursuing these cases in court.

The third proposed sign, the Universal Outdoor project, was not approved by the Zoning Department. Universal is appealing this decision through the court system.

The Corelli Roofing billboard case will be heard on appeal in the Circuit Court on January 15. The two other appeals will follow.

In this case, the billboard company offered monetary and equipment donations to Hampden Elementary School on condition that the principal and the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) would support the billboard proposal at Zoning and community meetings, as well as produce 25 letters of support from parents of the students. This agreement was expressed in the form of a signed contract, and its conditions were fulfilled by the school principal and PTO.

Opposition to the billboard has been intense. Seventy-five residents signed petitions and wrote letters. The SPCA, which is a designated historic property, and the Crittenden Home have expressed opposition, as have several area businesses. All have stated that the sign will be visible from their property.

Officials from both Stanley Shelter Advertising and the Zoning Department acknowledge that the sign will be seen from some homes, but, in the words of the answer to the complaint, "not to the extent where it would have a negative impact or be obstrusive upon these communities."

Yet the Department of Zoning disapproved the sign proposed three years ago. Their decision, based on the same conditions, was reached after viewing professionally produced topographical maps provided by opponents. These maps showed that the huge lighted sign would have hovered 50 feet above 44 residences that it directly faced, and would have been visible from hundreds of other properties, including the aforementioned institutions as well as churches and the Salvation Army.

In order to fight these three signs, the community has hired a lawyer who specializes in zoning issues Fundraisers have been held, netting approximately $10,000. Opponents of the signs point out that the funds being spent to protect their neighborhoods from what they believe is visual blight could be better spent, for example, to support neighborhood schools. They cannot understand why the three billboards have been approved by the Zoning Department after residents won their case with similar facts three years ago

When the Greater Homewood Renaissance held planning sessions for the Greater Homewood communities, participants voted on projects they consider most important and most worthy of implementation. The Jones Falls Watershed received the second highest number of votes. Residents wanted to clean it up, maintain it, and make a recreational trail along the entire Jones Falls valley. This plan would be adversely affected, sign opponents point out, by the proposed towering billboards.

In light of the Greater Homewood Renaissance findings and considering that Baltimore City is currently working on a Master Plan, sign opponents are calling for more investigation of the sign proposals,

The Greater Jones Falls Coalition is receiving support from a committee of Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA), which successfully fought against the advertisement of cigarettes and liquor on billboards. The committee has now turned its attention to the question of erecting new billboards.

Sharon Price lives and works in a converted stable (the only surviving stable adjacent to Hampden's historic Mill Center). For further information or to arrange to attend the trial on January 15, call Pete Pakas at CPHA, 539-1369 or. Ms. Price at 889-3288. Donations may be sent to the Greater Jones Falls Coalition, 3100 Elm Avenue, Baltimore 21211.

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This story was published on January 7, 1998.