Zon­ing re­write nears an OK

Over­haul aims for a more walk­a­ble city, some busi­ness lim­its

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

The Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil is near­ing the end of a years-long re­write of zon­ing rules meant to cre­ate a more walk­a­ble city while lim­it­ing the types of busi­nesses of­fi­cials see as neg­a­tive for neigh­bor­hoods.

The over­haul is aimed at mak­ing it eas­ier for plan­ning of­fi­cials to cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties with homes, jobs, shop­ping and en­ter­tain­ment op­tions all near each other, while im­pos­ing new reg­u­la­tions on en­ti­ties city of­fi­cials want to de­ter.

Soror­i­ties and fra­ter­ni­ties, bail bonds­men, check-cash­ing busi­nesses and liquor stores would have to gain City Coun­cil ap­proval be­fore open­ing in much of Bal­ti­more. Un­der cur­rent law, they need only seek the ap­proval from the zon­ing or liquor board.

“It’s a safe­guard for peo­ple who live in th­ese com­mu­ni­ties,” said Lester Davis, a spokesman for City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young. “The elected mem­bers of the City Coun­cil are the ones who are re­spon­si­ble to their con­stituents.

“You’d like to have your elected of­fi­cials look­ing into an is­sue in­stead of a bu­reau­crat who doesn’t live in your neigh­bor­hood.”

The zon­ing over­haul is on the coun­cil’s agenda for to­day, and it is sched­uled to re­ceive a fi­nal vote next month. Sign­ing the sweep­ing over­haul is ex­pected to be one of Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake’s fi­nal of­fi­cial acts. Mayor-elect Cather­ine E. Pugh takes of­fice Dec. 6, and the new City Coun­cil is to be sworn in Dec. 8.

Coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Ed­ward Reisinger shep­herded the bill through the coun­cil.

“It’s been a long jour­ney,” he said. “I’m Young

glad it’s over. We’re not 100 per­cent where we want to be, but we’re 95 per­cent there.

“When the new coun­cil comes in in Jan­uary, we’re go­ing to put to­gether a group to eval­u­ate what we passed. If any­thing fell through the cracks, we’ll amend it then.”

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 coun­cil has worked on it for more than four years.

Coun­cil mem­bers have con­sid­ered more than 800 amend­ments and signed off on more than 290.

Lau­rie R. Fein­berg, Bal­ti­more’s as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of plan­ning, worked on the leg­is­la­tion for years. She said it would not be un­usual af­ter such an over­haul for the coun­cil to take a fresh look at what passed in Jan­uary.

“Philadel­phia had amend­ments within two weeks of pas­sage of their zon­ing bill,” she said. “There are go­ing to be mis­takes. I would hope it gets amended once a year. Cer­tainly, any­thing would be bet­ter than wait­ing for 40 years. Th­ese things need to be fre­quently looked at as cities change and evolve.”

Coun­cil mem­bers say the over­haul, 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 that in­clude homes and busi­nesses suited to 21st-cen­tury tastes.

The changes in the bill would make it eas­ier to cre­ate ur­ban farms, bioparks and projects built near tran­sit stops.

The coun­cil erupted in a bit­ter dis­pute last month over how the code han­dles liquor stores.

The re­write would put dozens of liquor stores in res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods out of busi­ness. Coun­cil­man Nick J. Mosby pro­posed a 60-page amend­ment that would have been even more strin­gent.

Mosby pro­posed cre­at­ing a Pub­lic Nui­sance Pre­ven­tion Board that in­cluded com­mu­nity mem­bers, lim­it­ing the sale of in­di­vid­ual beers, and block­ing some new liquor-serv­ing es­tab­lish­ments from open­ing within 300 feet of ex­ist­ing es­tab­lish­ments.

Young and oth­ers ar­gued the amend­ment was anti-busi­ness. It failed by a vote of 11-3.

City Coun­cil­woman Mary Pat Clarke sup­ported Mosby’s amend­ment. She was pleased with other as­pects of the zon­ing bill.

“I’m re­lieved and glad to see it end suc­cess­fully,” she said. “We were very much in con­sen­sus about the kinds of busi­nesses that we need to have coun­cil ap­proval for.

“I feel it’s a good new code, but yet we’ll be mak­ing some changes. We’ll be in a po­si­tion to fix things that aren’t work­ing.”

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

In Fells Point, neigh­bor­hood groups banded to­gether to try to limit build­ing heights, but the pro­posal 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. Op­po­nents feared a clash be­tween res­i­dents and busi­ness. Kraft’s amend­ment stood. In Roland Park, the Bal­ti­more Coun­try Club tried to pre­vent a cap on the num­ber of homes that could be built on its land.

Neigh­bors sup­ported the limit, and the coun­cil sided with them.

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