Baltimore’s City Council gave preliminary approval Monday for the city’s first zoning overhaul in more than four decades, the Baltimore Sun reports. The new rules, dubbed “TransForm Balitmore,” are intended to streamline development, encourage reuse of old buildings and create more walkable neighborhoods.
They also make it easier to approve the amenities city officials want — like urban farms, bioparks and transit-oriented development — while increasing regulation around less desirable uses, like new sororities and fraternities, bail bondsmen, check-cashing businesses and liquor stores in residential areas.
Councilman Nick J. Mosby didn’t believe the Council was doing enough about problem liquor stores and bars, however. The zoning code rewrite as approved Monday would already put dozens of liquor stores in residential areas out of business, but Mosby introduced an amendment that would have created a new Public Nuisance Prevention Board to supplement a liquor board he sees as too weak.
His amendment also would have limited the sale of individual beers and blocked some new liquor-serving establishments from opening within 300 feet of existing stores. Mosby invoked the 2015 unrest following the death Freddie Gray as justification for his amendment. But council members voted 11-3 to strip it from the bill, out of concern it was too broad, and could hurt small businesses.
Councilman Robert Curran was one of those no votes. “It has been 45 years since we had a rezoning,” he told the Sun. “I’m not going to allow four years of work to go down the drain because of one amendment.”
The city’s planning department began to work on a zoning rewrite eight years ago, four years before the Council took it up. Laurie R. Feinberg, Baltimore’s assistant director of planning who worked on the plan for years, said officials had tried to create a system that was easy to understand, predictable and apolitical.
“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.”
The Council held more than 40 meetings around the city to listen to neighborhood concerns, some of which are reflected in the final changes. The neighborhood of Fells Point attempted to limit building heights, but their measure failed. The Roland Park neighborhood successfully fought the Baltimore Country Club’s attempts to limit the number of houses that could be built on club land. Overall, more than 800 amendments were considered and 290 approved.
“When you overhaul the zoning code, that’s something that’s going to affect people’s lives for a generation,” said a spokesperson for Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young. “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.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.