New La Plata coun­cil be­gins dis­cus­sion on sign or­di­nance woes

Town coun­cil strug­gles to ad­dress or­di­nance is­sues

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By CHAR­LIE WRIGHT cwright@somd­

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.

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