Montgomery County plans crackdown on illegal signs -- Gazette.Net


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If you drive around Montgomery County, you’ve probably seen the signs that spring up at virtually every major intersection — or sometimes even nowhere near an intersection — advertising everything from political candidates to weight loss programs and offers to buy your house fast.

On July 9, a mix of county staffers fanned out around the county, collecting more than 2,500 signs, signaling what one official said will be an increased effort to crack down on people who repeatedly put signs in public rights of way.

The signs create nuisances for communities, and the number of calls and complaints the county gets has been increasing, said Ehsan Motazedi, division chief of the Zoning and Site Plan Enforcement in the county’s Department of Permitting Services.

Motazedi said the more urban areas of the county tend to see more illegal signs, although rural areas also see some, he said.

Last week’s sweep scooped up a lot of signs from Germantown, Wheaton, and the Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase areas, with a mix of business and political signs, he said. Most of the signs collected were along the side of the road, although some were also in medians, Motazedi said.

He said the public right of way generally stretches from about a foot behind the sidewalk on either side of a road, and includes utility poles and poles for traffic lights.

Dennis Holden, a co-chairman of the east county civic activist group the Fairland Coalition, said he appreciates the county’s action but thinks it’s too little and comes too late unless the county makes a “concerted and serious” effort at enforcing the law.

Montgomery has one of the strongest sign laws in the country, allowing fines of up to $500 a day for each sign, but the county doesn’t regularly enforce it, Holden said.

“This is appreciated, but we want more and we want it fast,” he said.

The county hasn’t had a lot of success with issuing fines and pursuing people who don’t pay through what can be a lengthy court process, and has largely focused on educating people about the rules, Motazedi said.

It’s more common for the county to issue a notice of violation rather than fine people, unless their signs become a nuisance, said Jessica Fusillo, a spokeswoman for Permitting Services.

“We do try to do outreach first,” she said.

Motazedi said the county doesn’t crack down on signs for open houses, yard sales and the other kinds of events for which the placards are put up for only a weekend or a few days.

But the county does plan on becoming more aggressive with people who repeatedly put up other types of signs, he said.

County staff will soon start using a spreadsheet to track who is putting up signs, the location and other information to help better identify repeat offenders, he said.

Motazedi said there was no timetable for when the increased enforcement would begin.

“We’re going to keep up with it,” he said.

rmarshall@gazette.net