LARGO – To crack down on illegal signs posted throughout the roadways in Prince George’s County, the Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement (DPIE) began its two-day “Sign Blitz” on Sept. 23-24 to remove as much as 5,000 advertisements throughout the county.
The two-day removal process is a part of County Executive Angela Alsobrooks’ beautification project, which began with the passing of a law barring illegal dumping in Prince George’s County during the spring legislative session in Annapolis earlier this year.
“The county executive made it clear that beatification in the county is one of her top concerns and a key priority for her administration,” County Chief of Staff John Erzen said. “We’ve traveled across the county for a while now and heard from citizens that this is one of their biggest concerns.”
The first blitz comes before DPIE officials meet with local homeowner and civic associations in the Fall Community Partners Meeting on Sept. 25 in Forestville.
Melinda M. Bolling, who was confirmed as the director of DPIE on May 14, said that the blitzes are a collaborative effort with the agency, the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T), the Department of the Environment, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), Prince George’s County Police Department and several local municipalities.
“We have an initiative in the spring and in the fall where we have a sign blitz along with our sister agencies and some state partners where we go along our roadways in Prince George’s County and remove illegal signs,” Bolling said.
“A lot of the citizens and businesses are not aware that these signs are illegal, but they are, and they should not be there.”
According to Inspector Rick Smith, staff members are paired off and given a designated area to target. Within those districts, inspectors start collecting in the most prominent areas where signs are located in, mainly in medians or on county-owned grass areas. Once they finish collecting all the signs, they are thrown away.
“What we do is enhance communities,” Smith said. “It makes businesses want to come, and it makes investors want to invest and build homes, all of which helps the economy. In doing these things by beatifying the county and communities, it also enhances their future as well.”
Following a brief press conference on Sept. 23, inspectors opened up their vehicles to show the signs collected during their blitz before being tossed inside a dumpster located outside the DPIE Headquarters in Largo. Advertising signs, including restaurant deals, music lessons, party entertainment, summer camps, house purchasing and several others, were collected and seen being thrown away.
“There is no gauge on what business it is (leaving signs on roadways),” Smith said. “People are going to want to advertise no matter what their business is. That’s the objective of a business, but there is a proper way to do it. If they don’t do it the correct way, this is our way of saying here are the consequences.”
Bolling said that once signs are taken down, DPIE will attempt to contact the business owner to let them know that the signs are illegal and any remaining advertisements should be removed. Failure to do so could lead to fines as high as $1,000 per incident, Bolling said.
There are legal ways for businesses to promote themselves in the county, DPIE Deputy Director Gary E. Cunningham said. Business owners must go through a process with DPIE and the county’s park and planning department while checking the zoning ordinances to make sure that advertisements are allowed to stay up following approval. However, the majority of businesses do not reach out the county or just stick a sign in “areas of opportunities.”
“We ask that companies that want to put a legal sign to advertise their business to contact our agency; there is a permitting process that they need to go through so they can legally put up signs,” Cunningham said. “The small signs that stick in the grass are not permitted; the law specifically allows several types of signs when you are advertising a business.”
One time of the year where signs appear prominently on major county roadways is election season. According to Cunningham, they are allowed, but once the election has occurred, all campaign signs must be removed. Before the election is over, DPIE will contact the candidates to remind them that any signage that belongs to their campaign needs to be removed within a certain time frame.
Community police will be helping with the blitz as well as communicating with DPIE inspectors if large amounts of signs appear in one location and have no permit, officials say. Because it is a collaborative effort between several agencies for two days in the fall and spring, the costs will be coming from DPIE’s enforcement budget, Bolling said.
“We are not trying to stop anyone from making a living and advertising what they do to make that living, but it is not a legal way to do it by putting signs in the rights-of-ways and in medians and all the other places we see them,” Erzen said. “Anytime you put these signs up; we are going to take them down and take them.”