While many residents and visitors feel the lack of signs has made locating places in Columbia far too difficult, others feel the restrictions have preserved a more pleasant appearance.
Developer Howard Hughes Corp., Columbia's master developer, wants the freedom to be innovative with a rapidly changing electronic technology, while residents and some council members fear the visual clutter they've seen for years along U.S. 40 and U.S. 1 leaching into Columbia.
The Town Center Village Board, the homeowners' group that covers the downtown area, wrote to the council Friday that while the board opposed having video boards in downtown in testimony delivered December 20, the members now feel proposed amendments make the idea "more egregious."
"Ironically, new videos that are particularly attractive could be the worst distracters" for pedestrians as well as motorists, the board's letter said.
But council Chairman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, said the members spent "an inordinate amount of hours" on the bill. "It is in much, much better shape than when it came to us," he said.
The electronic signs drew the most comment and criticism from the public, and several members praised the five pages of specific amendments controlling digital displays as compared with the original bill, which merely said that video boards are allowed in downtown.
"This five pages of criteria is the result of all of us spending more hours than we would like admit," working on it, said Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat. She offered amendments banning inflated signs in downtown, especially the "flappy guy"-style signs such as the one waving at motorists Saturday in front of the Firestone Tire store on Little Patuxent Parkway.