Electronic Signs

Although not "roadside" signs in the same way as the others covered here, "electronic" sign have become a real problem - especially as a distraction for drivers. After all, their primary purpose is to get drivers' attention. In the old days, when many of our laws were conceived, they only addressed the small "time and temperature" signs at banks. Because of their limited size, the display alternated between the two pieces of information and they were individual lights on a dark background. As modern LED displays (just like TV screen) became cheaper, many other businesses starting putting up large displays, which were capable of anything that your TV is capable of - rapid changing and full motion video.

Baltimore County, in an attempt to catch up with technology, revised its Sign Code in 2008 with Bill 106-2008. It involved a long process with the Planning Office (under the leadership of Pat Keller) drafting proposed legislation with input from citizens and then the County Council held a hearing. After that, it seemed to be forgotten until I spoke before the Council and pleaded with them to advance the legislation, mainly since, during this process of drafting a new law, Code Enforcement had completely stopping enforcing the existing law.

Bill 106-2008 was then introduced which, among other things, would have set the allowable rate of change on an electronic signs to one change per 30 minutes. (The Office of Planning had recommended 1 hour.) Many business owners testified against this Bill, claiming that they would unfairly prevent them from using the signs that they had paid tens of thousands of dollars for. (One of those who testified was Todd Huff, likely what got him thinking about running for office.) In fact, every one of those signs had been installed under a permit that explicitly stated that they were not allowed to show "flashing, strobing, oscillating, blinking, or the appearance of movement". What was missing in the Code at the time was a definition of these terms. Although the Code was generally interpreted to mean no change in the display ever (except for time and temperature), the commonly accepted practice was to allow one change per hour. Thus, the result of the proposed legislation with the 30 minute limit would have been to relax the limit. Never-the-less, the businesses swore that they would fight this "new" restriction. Talk about ignoring reality!

To the shock of everyone, at the final legislative session, Councilman Moxley proposed an amendment to change "30 minutes" to "15 seconds". Gardina seconded and the amendment passed 4-3, with Kamenetz, McIntire, and Oliver voting against it. (At the Work Session the previous Tuesday, Gardina had commented that he had watched one of those drug store signs changing every 15 seconds and didn't think it was so bad.) At the subsequent Council session, numerous citizens spoke out against this result, including my friend Doug who pulled in a box of paper on a hand truck. As he said, if one sheet of paper represented a once per day display, allowing a new message every 15 seconds was like 5760 pieces of paper - a box full.

Only when the new Bill took effect did Code Enforcement begin renewed enforcement. And even then, they incorrectly insisted on waiting until the end of the 180-day compliance period in the Bill to resume enforcing the old provisions. Since that date (June 25, 2009), I have filed numerous complaints about these signs, wherever I find them in the County. In many cases, an inspection takes place within a couple days and the problem is corrected. But, for some reason, when I repeatedly filed complaints for a series of such signs on Reisterstown Rd, they have been ignored. For example, the first such complaint on Sept 30, 2009 included one for the Northwest Savings Bank at 9612 Reisterstown Rd. It was still scrolling 9 years later, in spite of numerous follow-up complaints. (Meanwhile, it's become a Shore United Bank, which has a new complaint filed against it. The most recent case was closed as "no violation".)

A complaint was filed on May 17, 2011 for Len Stoler at 11275 Reisterstown Rd. It was closed without action. Additional complaints were filed on May 31, 2013, July 3, 2014 and Sept 17, 2014, never resulting in action, although an inspector visited the property on July 10, 2014 and took this photo, which clearly show the sign in mid-scroll. The latest was a complaint filed on May 13, 2015 for which the "initial" inspection has been rescheduled at least 10 times, so that it has never been done (along with a half dozen others in the same area). It's gotten so bad that the County website no longer even shows a scheduled inspection date, and all past information about scheduling has been removed. It's quite obvious that Code Enforcement is protecting one of these businesses from prosecution. Guess who!

I wrote to Kevin Kamenetz to request that he ensure that his staff do their jobs in enforcing this law (which he voted for back in 2008). I got a ridiculous non-answer from his assistant.

Here are some links to a movie of Al Stoler's disgusting sign. .mov (23 MB) or .wmv (4 MB) Strangely, this electronic sign has recently been removed.

Return to Main Page

Updated 22 Jan 2022 by MAP