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City seeks to restrict billboards

August 17, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

The number of billboards in Hagerstown is growing, prompting city planning officials to propose a law that would restrict the size, location and number of billboards per lot.

Planning officials feel such a law is needed to for aesthetic reasons and to improve pedestrian and traffic safety, Planning Director Ric Kautz said Monday.

Kautz couldn't site a specific incident in which a billboard was a factor in an accident, but said billboards exist to get the attention of drivers.

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If the City Council passes the law, it would affect existing and new signs that are not on the same sites as the businesses they advertise, Kautz said.

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Council members, who will discuss the proposal during today's 6 p.m. work session, could change the proposal so existing billboards would be grandfathered in, Kautz said.

The proposal would require that an annual permit be obtained for each billboard, with the permit to be issued only for signs that meet the guidelines, Kautz said.

The council would set the cost of the permit, said Matt Davis, a city planner.

The only restrictions the city has now for billboards deal with structural and lighting issues handled through the building permit process, Kautz said.

Planning officials want to move quickly to get billboard restrictions in place because the number of billboards is rising, according to a memo from Davis. In the memo, Davis said making the proposed law effective on Jan. 1 would give sign companies time to meet the guidelines.

City officials have received complaints that new billboards on South Burhans Boulevard near Subway Seafood Restaurant & Lounge and on East Wilson Boulevard near the intersection with South Potomac Street look bad, Davis said.

On South Burhans Boulevard, one billboard is above another, which would not be allowed under the proposal, officials said.

Under the proposal, a billboard could have two advertising faces only if the faces were back to back.

Kegerreis Outdoor Advertising, of Fayetteville, Pa., owns the new billboards on South Burhans Boulevard and East Wilson Boulevard, Davis said.

Owner Richard L. Kegerreis could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Douglas Wright Jr., president and co-owner of a local advertising agency and chairman of the Hagerstown Planning Commission, said he missed last week's commission meeting and couldn't comment on the specifics of the proposal.

"I don't have a problem with an ordinance to control billboards because it should be controlled as all other elements in our community are controlled," said Wright, president of GS Images.

GS Images owns 44 advertising spaces on 21 different structures within city limits, Wright said. The structures have between one and four advertising spaces.

In many cases, the company also owns the land on which the billboard structure is built, Wright said.

Wright said he participated in some planning commission discussions on the generalities of the proposed billboard law.

He said he hadn't participated in the commission's discussions on a 1992 proposed billboard law and abstained from voting on it.

There wasn't enough support for a billboard law in 1992, Kautz said. That proposal originally was designed to ban billboards, but was changed to allow existing and future billboards.

The new proposed law does not include restrictions on content.

Kautz said businesses have the right to advertise and the city is not going to get involved in a freedom of speech issue.

Planning Commission members Dennis Miller, David Lyles, Steven Zaks and Alfred W. Boyer, who also is a City Council member, voted 4-0 last Wednesday to recommend the proposed law to the council, officials said.

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