A neighborhood association representing Roland Parkers has apologized after its newsletter recently discouraged the display of issue-based yard signs, referring to them as “clutter” prohibited under city zoning code.
“I would like to personally apologize if the recent Roland Park News conveyed to you the impression that we wish to interfere with your First Amendment right to free expression,” said Roland Park Civic League president Hap Cooper in a statement Tuesday. “We support and encourage respectful dialogue without exception.”
The newest edition of Roland Park’s quarterly newsletter stirred ire in the community with a short blurb dubbed “Temporary Signs/The Do’s and Don’ts in Baltimore City.”
At issue, it read, were yard signs “about the environment, immigration, racial justice and other political and social issues.” As with the rest of Baltimore, a number of Roland Park dwellers have installed signs in their front yards supporting the Black Lives Matter movement or welcoming people of all creeds, races, ethnicities, nationalities and sexual orientations.
“While we do all have the right to express ourselves, these signs are not permitted according to the Baltimore City Zoning Code,” the publication said on page 14. “Although it is unlikely that the City will come to Roland Park to enforce these provisions of the Zoning Code, it is the law of our City and we should all try to follow it.”
“Our community prides itself on its bucolic atmosphere,” it continued, “and the proliferation of signs around the neighborhood detracts from that beauty. Please be aware that sign clutter can be a nuisance to your neighbors.”
Complaints arose. Some neighbors questioned why the civic league appeared to be taking a stance on First Amendment-protected speech. As one resident told The Sun’s Luke Broadwater in a story that ran Monday, “I don’t want my ability to exercise free speech infringed on.” Another aptly posed, “Given the history of Roland Park and the challenges of Baltimore, don’t we have better things to be spending our time on?”
Cooper said a lawyer who lives in the affluent North Baltimore neighborhood “formally requested that the Civic League circulate the Baltimore zoning laws prohibiting long-term use of temporary signs.” However, he said he spoke on Tuesday with City Solicitor Andre Davis, who “confirmed that signs containing political opinions may stay up indefinitely.”
Aside from the legacy of racial exclusion in Roland Park, recent history was working against the civic league. Students from two of the neighborhood’s private schools were infamously photographed on Halloween wearing orange prison jumpsuits and flaunting supposed gang signs. Days later, someone vandalized the neighborhood’s welcome sign with Sharpie, scrawling “Home of White Silence,” and “White Silence Won’t Save You.”
Private school alumni responded to the controversy with a “rally in support of schools standing up against racism,” demonstrating in the median on Roland Avenue.
Cooper said the civic league had installed a “temporary sign welcoming people of all backgrounds to our community” next to that same permanent welcome sign on W. University Parkway that was vandalized.
On the newsletter’s zoning code admonition, Cooper said the association “failed to anticipate that doing so could be interpreted as opposition to the content of many of these signs. For that, again, we are truly sorry.”
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