New La Plata council begins discussion on sign ordinance woes
Town council struggles to address ordinance issues
The La Plata Town Council continued to discuss sign ordinances during its work session Tuesday evening, but chose to postpone any resolution in order to further research the topic.
The rigid verbiage used in the current La Plata Municipal Code has caused an uproar in the community, forcing the town council to address the issue. The members seek to adjust some of the more arcane aspects of the law while still regulating signs and banners for aesthetic reasons.
“We want to make it so it’s not as restrictive, more common sense,” said La Plata Mayor Jeannine James. “We nitpick everything for a few that violate it, so it punishes everybody.”
James pointed specifically to changing the section requiring business signs to be within 5 feet of the entrance of their establishment, and Councilwoman Paddy Mudd mentioned the frivolity of the regulations limiting balloon clusters to seven or less. All members agreed there are a variety of problems regarding sign law, so James suggested each council member review and comment on the ordinances individually and then the group would reopen the topic at a later date.
The council also plans to seek advice from other municipalities about sign code at the upcoming Maryland Municipal League conference at the end of June. This means major changes are unlikely to come until August, although one small adjustment made last October has improved the situation. The town has ceased removing signs that are in violation of the code without the knowledge of the owner as well as stopped handing out fines to violators. Now those in violation receive a written warning along with a time period for removing the sign.
“It does depend on what the violation is, if its something that needs to be taken down immediately or within 24 hours or three days or whatever it is,” James said, adding that the change “seems to be working better.”
The council also discussed the property believed
to be the birthplace of Josiah Henson, which was excavated last year by students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Artifacts relating to the author and abolitionist were found on the site, prompting the state of Maryland to pursue financing the acquisition of part of the property.
Henson was born into slavery but eventually fled to Canada, where he became a conductor on the Underground Railroad and founded a settlement for escaped slaves. He is believed to be the primary inspiration for the main character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The council does not have concrete plans thus far for the property, but their goal is to be able to address stakeholders by the end of July, explained Town Manager Daniel Mears. Tuesday’s session was used to introduce the issue and determine a date to revisit it, but nothing further has been decided.