City’s zon­ing changes get nod

Pre­lim­i­nary OK for over­haul de­spite bit­ter fight over liquor rules

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

The Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval Mon­day to the first over­haul of zon­ing rules in more than 40 years, af­fect­ing ev­ery­thing from fra­ter­ni­ties to ur­ban farms — but not be­fore a bit­ter dis­pute erupted over liquor stores.

Coun­cil­man Nick J. Mosby clashed with col­leagues over whether they were do­ing enough to crack down on prob­lem liquor stores.

The zon­ing code re­write would put dozens of liquor stores in res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods out of busi­ness, but Mosby added a 60-page amend­ment to the leg­is­la­tion last week that Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young ar­gued went too far against bars.

Coun­cil mem­bers voted 11-3 Mon­day night to strip Mosby’s amend­ment from the bill, say­ing that it was flawed and would hurt small busi­nesses.

“I stand be­fore you to­day ut­terly dis­ap­pointed,” Mosby told his col­leagues. “You’re on the wrong side of this is­sue.”

He de­scribed the votes against his amend­ment as “cocky” and “ar­ro­gant.”

“I’m not sure what we learned from ... April and May of 2015,” when, in the af­ter­math of the death of Fred­die Gray,

protests and ri­ot­ing gripped Bal­ti­more. “We come into this cham­ber ... and do the same failed poli­cies over and over and over again.”

Mosby’s amend­ment would have tar­geted a liquor board he be­lieves is too weak on nui­sance bars. The amend­ment would have cre­ated a Pub­lic Nui­sance Pre­ven­tion Board that in­cluded com­mu­nity mem­bers, limited the sale of in­di­vid­ual beers, and blocked some new liquor-serv­ing es­tab­lish­ments from open­ing within 300 feet of ex­ist­ing es­tab­lish­ments.

But the broad na­ture of the changes Mosby pro­posed — and their late ad­di­tion to the over­haul — sparked con­cern among area busi­nesses.

Aldo’s restau­rant co-owner Ser­gio Vi­tale cir­cu­lated an email say­ing Mosby’s amend­ment could end up hurt­ing bars and restau­rants.

Vi­tale warned the amend­ment would “cre­ate a du­plica­tive liquor board” that would cost liquor li­cense-hold­ers more money. And he said it was “slipped in” with­out am­ple busi­ness or com­mu­nity in­put.

“This amend­ment means they could re­voke liquor li­censes much more eas­ily, and with­out suf­fi­cient due process,” Vi­tale wrote. “Pro­po­nents say this amend­ment is about elim­i­nat­ing nui­sance bars, but it is writ­ten so vaguely, this im­pacts each of us. Un­der this broadly writ­ten leg­is­la­tion, a frus­trated neigh­bor or even a com­peti­tor could os­ten­si­bly cause you to lose your liquor li­cense with­out re­course.”

Young called Mosby’s amend­ment “dan­ger­ous” and “anti-busi­ness.” He said some busi­nesses, such as the TGIF Fri­day’s at Mon­dawmin Mall, could be forced to shut down un­der the amend­ment — a claim Mosby de­nied.

“It would cause le­gal chal­lenges be­cause it con­flicts with state law,” Young said. “We have some nice bars that peo­ple like that it could af­fect. If you have a prob­lem with a bar, that’s what the liquor board is for.”

City Coun­cil­man Robert W. Cur­ran was one of the 11 votes against Mosby’s amend­ment.

“It has been 45 years since we had a re­zon­ing,” Cur­ran said. “I’m not go­ing to al­low four years of work to go down the drain be­cause of one amend­ment.”

Coun­cil mem­bers say the over­haul of the zon­ing code, dubbed Trans­Form Bal­ti­more, has been writ­ten to usher in an era of faster, sim­pler devel­op­ment. It in­cludes changes in­tended to pro­mote the re­use of the city’s old build­ings and en­cour­age walk­a­ble neigh­bor­hoods of homes and busi­nesses suited to 21st-cen­tury tastes.

The changes in the bill would make it eas­ier to cre­ate the type of devel­op­ment city of­fi­cials want, such as ur­ban farms, bioparks and projects built near tran­sit stops. It also would add reg­u­la­tions for uses city of­fi­cials want to deter.

Un­der the changes, new soror­i­ties and fra­ter­ni­ties, bail bonds­men and check­cash­ing busi­nesses would have to gain City Coun­cil ap­proval be­fore they can open.

The re­write would also force dozens of liquor stores op­er­at­ing in res­i­den­tial ar­eas to close down.

Lau­rie R. Fein­berg, Bal­ti­more’s as­sis­tant direc­tor of plan­ning, worked on the leg­is­la­tion for years. She said plan­ning of­fi­cials tried to set up a sys­tem that was pre­dictable and apo­lit­i­cal — so busi­nesses and res­i­dents could eas­ily un­der­stand the code and know what to ex­pect.

She lamented some of the changes that coun­cil mem­bers made, but thinks the bill would be an im­prove­ment over cur­rent zon­ing in Bal­ti­more.

“We are thrilled that the coun­cil is fi­nally mov­ing for­ward after many years,” Fein­berg said. “Ob­vi­ously, we like the way we did it bet­ter, but over­all it’s a pos­i­tive step for­ward.”

Bal­ti­more’s cur­rent zon­ing bill was ap­proved in 1971. The city’s plan­ning de­part­ment be­gan to work on a re­write of the law eight years ago, and the City Coun­cil has worked on it for more than four. Coun­cil mem­bers have con­sid­ered more than 800 amend­ments and signed off on more than 290.

“This has been a long, long, long jour­ney,” City Coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Ed­ward Reisinger said Mon­day evening.

Dis­putes flared up around Bal­ti­more over the re­zon­ing, and the coun­cil held more than 40 meet­ings to ad­dress the con­cerns.

In Fells Point, neigh­bor­hood groups banded to­gether to try to limit build­ing heights, but that mea­sure failed.

In nearby High­land­town, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of in­dus­trial firms took is­sue with an amend­ment pro­posed by Coun­cil­man James B. Kraft to al­low the con­struc­tion of new homes — they feared a clash be­tween res­i­dents and busi­ness. Kraft’s amend­ment stood. In Roland Park, the Bal­ti­more Coun­try Club tried to pre­vent a map change sup­ported by neigh­bors that would have limited the num­ber of homes that could be built on the club’s land.

But the coun­cil ul­ti­mately sided with Coun­cil­woman Sharon Green Mid­dle­ton, who sup­ported the neigh­bor­hood pro­posal against the club.

Mosby’s amend­ment sparked the lat­est de­bate. Mosby said the city’s liquor board hasn’t been tough enough on prob­lem bars, and a new body is needed that in­cludes com­mu­nity mem­bers.

“We have com­mu­ni­ties with ma­jor con­cerns about very prob­lem­atic liquor stores in their neigh­bor­hoods,” Mosby said. “There’s a block in Park Heights with five liquor stores. It’s un­ac­cept­able. The point of the bill is pro­vide the com­mu­nity with more voice.”

Mosby said the pro­vi­sions of his amend­ment wouldn’t take ef­fect for a year — so that would al­low coun­cil mem­bers to work out any prob­lems with the changes.

City Coun­cil­woman Mary Pat Clarke and Coun­cil­man Bill Henry joined Mosby in sup­port­ing the change.

Clarke ar­gued the bill gives com­mu­ni­ties more “lever­age” against prob­lem bars.

But the chair­man of the liquor board, for­mer Judge Al­bert J. Ma­tri­cianni Jr., wrote that the change would cre­ate an “un­con­sti­tu­tional shadow liquor board.”

Deputy Mayor An­drew Smul­lian said the amend­ment was worded too broadly and would have re­quired ev­ery seller of al­co­hol in Bal­ti­more to ap­ply for ad­di­tional zon­ing ap­provals.

“They would lose their zon­ing and have to go get” ad­di­tional zon­ing ap­proval, Smul­lian said. “This has been a mat­ter of days, and no­body knows about it.”

City Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott, who voted against Mosby’s amend­ment, said he would sup­port the mea­sure if it comes back later as a stand-alone bill.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said the fight over liquor is­sues is just one as­pect of a sweep­ing bill that is the prod­uct of years of work.

“When you over­haul the zon­ing code, that’s some­thing that’s go­ing to af­fect peo­ple’s lives for a gen­er­a­tion,” Davis said. “The zon­ing code is go­ing to be leaner and more com­pre­hen­sive. It’s go­ing to spur devel­op­ment.”

A fi­nal vote is sched­uled for next month. Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake is ex­pected to sign the leg­is­la­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.