In early 2016, green bins started appearing at many Baltimore County intersections for trash and recycling, this one is at Waelchli Ave and Sulphur Spring Rd. What was bothersome is that they had space on front and back for advertising, which is illegal at the places they have been placed - often on county-owned land (including on sidewalks), but sometimes on adjacent private property.
After an enquiry to the County Administration, it was learned that a contract had been signed with a private company, Creative Outdoors Advertising ("COA"), for them to place these by the roads. At present (Oct 2021), their website lists 119 locations in Baltimore County, including, for example, 2 at the intersection of Rossville and Franklin Square, where I have rarely seen anyone walking (except for myself when I stop there to pick up illegal signs). So, once again, the Administration signed a contract for something that significantly impacts citizens, but made sure that no one knew about it until it was a "done deal". The 10-year contract specifies some of the requirements:
- COA may request sites anywhere in the County.
- Where a mounting pad does not exist (i.e., sidewalk), COA must provide one (I have yet to find one with such a mounting pad).
- COA is responsible for cutting grass, keeping bins free of graffiti and debris.
- COA must remove snow from bins. County may not place accumulated snow on the approaching side of bin (which severely hinders county snowplows)
- They cannot advertise tobacco, e-cigs, or "vaping".
- Bins may not be placed within the "traffic sight triangle" (see below).
- Bins may not interfere with pedestrian right-of-way. (Any bin placed on a sidewalk interferes, by definition.)
- The company proposes locations and the county approves them, after checking safety, etc. (This is obviously not being done.)
- Bins may be placed at up to 90 degree angle to road (like a traditional Billboard) - what this means is "at any angle they want" to face traffic.
- COA pays 12% of net advertising revenue to County. Any accountant can make the "net" zero.
- Once per year, the County may request a financial statement documenting revenues. On 2 Dec 2021, I asked for copies of the past 2 years' reports via the State PIA law. I got them on Jan 7 - late. 2019 report 2020 report I'm now asking for records of how much COA paid the county.
Copy of contract.
Some things apparently missing from the contract:
- Must get permission from adjacent (or actual) property owner.
- Advertising cannot compete with an established business within 200 ft, similar to what was put into the food-truck legislation back in 2013. (See examples below.)
- All the restrictions which were in draft Bill 13-09 regarding placement of newspaper vending boxes. (See below)
- Recycling and trash from the bins must be kept separate and properly disposed of. (Paper trail for recycling)
The problem is - this advertising is not allowed by the Baltimore County Code or BCZR. Until the County Council explicitly modifies the code, the administration has no authority or right to allow this advertising to be placed in Baltimore County anywhere.
- In road right-of-way: County Code §23-1-102 prohibits placing signs on county-owned land. It does not permit the Administration to give permission for any. In fact, this section provides an explicit exception for the placement of signs on bus shelters.
- On private property: Since this is commercial advertising, it requires a permit and must fit within the limits (size, number, placement) defined in the BCZR, depending on the zoning. Again, the Administration has no authority to grant exceptions. That is done via the defined variance or special hearing process, but the ALJ does not have authority to allow a sign type that the Code does not allow.
- While the contract covers bins placed on County property, it appears that some may have been incorrectly placed on state property, which requires a different approval process, and which was likely not done. Since they started appearing, those near state roads starting having State-issued permits added.
The contract contains the provision: "COA shall be responsible for all property taxes levied in association with any premises occupied by COA that are not located on County property", so they seem to be admitting that they may be placed on private property, although the contract begins with "COA has asked the County for the privilege of placing such amenities on untraveled portions of public highways ...".
Other issues (to be checked in contract and in practice):
- Are they all fastened down properly so that a child can't tip one over (and die)?
- How can we be sure that, when they are emptied, the stuff will actually be recycled properly?
- Is there a bond to ensure that, when the company folds, the bins will all be removed (and recycled)? (Since many of the already-installed bins do not have paid advertising, it appears that this venture is actually failing. Maybe a lot of potential advertisers realize how much citizens object to this glut.)
- Does the company understand that the County Code §13-7-112 requires them to immediately remove any graffiti? (Would the County even enforce this requirement as they have against others?)
For reference, see Board of Appeals case CBA-14-007 for rat infestation, trash, graffiti, etc. at 1 Shipping Pl in Dundalk.
In a related problem, back in 2009, the County Council considered restrictions on the placement, operation, and maintenance of "Newspaper Vending Boxes" (although what most of the ones needing regulation contained were not really "news", but simple advertising brochures).
More info --->
If these bins were actually placed where they would be useful, they might not be so bad, since trash and recycling collection would apparently be their primary purpose, with advertising secondary. However, many of them are placed as pictured in the following at the intersection of Rossville Blvd and Yellow Brick Rd. The second photo is from Nov 2021, apparently after some driver ran off the road and pushed it into the ditch. Maybe distracted trying to read it?
Note that the bin was not next to the bus stop (far left in photo), where most of the trash is, but rather was placed by the intersection, angled out to the middle for maximum visibility to traffic. That worked out well!
At another intersection, there are two bins relatively close together, such that anyone walking by one, would normally walk by the other. They are placed to catch drivers from multiple directions, not pedestrians.
In some cases, the bins are placed directly in front of a business and carry advertising in direct competition to it. These two examples along Joppa Rd show an ad for Maria's Pizza right in front of a Seasons Pizza place and one for Conrad's Crabs in front on the Applebee's. Maria's is located over a mile from this spot. We can be sure that these two restaurants were not asked if this would be okay. (Click on images)
At the intersection of Belair Rd and Rossville Blvd, I observed two men moving a bin up the sidewalk on a dolly and placing it by the road. They apparently didn't like where the ad company had placed it (with County approval), so they took matters into their own hands. I called the County to ensure that it was fastened down safely. It is now gone! According to the company's website, the two bins at this intersection were both on the opposite side of Belair Rd.
Or as a friend wrote to Baltimore County while objecting to a bin placed in Halethorpe:
"Is the size of the receptacle based on actual need for recycling/refuse space or for enticing advertisers to pay Creative Outdoor Advertising for its use ($99 per month)? The receptacle has four short legs; trash, leaves, and other debris will easily become trapped underneath it and provide safe haven for all types of small rodents."
So much for the County's rat eradication efforts in which they try to get citizens to eliminate the open spaces under decks, sheds, etc. Part of this program involves issuing $300 fines to many people for "existence of rat harborage" or "accumulation of trash, debris" on their property. Of course, there is also the charge of "Garbage not stored in container with tight fitting lid" being levied against private citizens by the hundreds (although it is often the county's trash collectors who are destroying them).
Traffic safety triangle The contract, in §10.3 states that "Amenities cannot be placed within the traffic sight triangle". The Baltimore County Code §102.5 defines a "safety triangle" at corners in order to avoid blocking the view of drivers at the intersection. The definition in the Code is that area "bounded on two sides by the front and side street property lines, or by projections of said lines to their point of intersection, and on the third side by a straight line connecting points on said lot lines (or their projections), each of which points is 25 feet distant from the point of intersection." Normally, the property lines are on the outside edge of the sidewalk, thus the "triangle" normally consists completely of privately owned land as diagrammed to the right. It must be presumed that "traffic sight triangle" in the contract is the same thing as "safety triangle" in the Code. So it is a little hard to apply this restriction when the bin is not placed on private property but on the sidewalk. Is the one pictured to the right in the "triangle"?
Following are some photos of ones that appear to be inside this "triangle", or in violation of the intent of the Code and the contract by being too close to the intersection:
NE corner Joppa Rd/Harford Rd
SE corner Joppa Rd/Waltham Woods Rd
NE corner Prince Rd/Goucher Blvd
Since the state does have some regulations regarding advertising place along state highways, that needs to be considered here. Under state law, Transportion Article, Section 8-701 et seq, a distinction is made between "on-premise" and "off-premise" signs. As in the County Code, off-premise signs are referred to as "outdoor advertising". Basically, the state law requires a permit for any sign within 500 ft of a state road unless within 100 ft of "any building at which the business advertised is carried on". It also prohibits granting a permit for any sign at an intersection which "obstructs or interferes with the view of ... a vehicle approaching the intersection".
Interestingly, recently SHA sign permits have appeared on some bins (those near state roads). For example, the bin at the corner of Joppa and Harford Rd (pictured above left) now has two permits with numbers L00367 and L00368 for the 2 signs, front and back. Wonder how much this is costing COA.
In order to prevent dangerous (or ugly) conditions, some complaints have been filed with the department responsible for these bins
Complaints have been sent to Charlie Reighart (now retired) of Baltimore County Waste Management at for the following:
|NW corner Rossville||May 31, 2017||Broken footing||Fixed|
|SE corner Rossville/Perry Hall Blvd||July 2, 2017||Loose footing||fixed|
Interestingly, Creative Outdoor Advertising was advertising on Craigslist for workers to maintain these bins. Here is an ad from June 15, 2018. Note that the requirement is to have a "trailer" for trash collection implying that there is no attempt to keep separate the trash from recycling - just as I suspected.