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Keeping Tabs On The City Council’s Activities So You Don't Have To

On the agenda for Sept. 20.

Bill 10-0602 Marriage License Fees – Domestic Violence Shelters.

Would increase the city’s fee for a marriage license by $50 and direct the money to the House of Ruth Maryland.

The Read: “This is an increase in the cost of getting married for a good cause,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) announced as she introduced the bill, which would triple the fee from $25 to $75. The idea, she says, is to keep the nonprofit House of Ruth shelter for battered women “in a balanced budget situation.”

Bill 10-0600 Inclusionary Housing Requirements – Repeal of “Sunset.”

Would cancel the automatic termination of the city’s “inclusionary housing” law, passed in 2007.

The Read: City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) made this a showcase item on the agenda, issuing a press release beforehand with such lofty pronouncements as, “My inclusionary housing bill is positioned to have a profound positive impact on the lives of Baltimoreans by ensuring that people from all economic backgrounds have access to decent and affordable housing.” The original bill, touted by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and passed after much debate, mandates that housing projects of 30 or more units that receive a significant public subsidy (i.e., tax breaks) must reserve at least 20 percent of their housing units as “market-rate affordable housing.” Notwithstanding the squishy definition of that phrase, the bare fact—so far—is that the bill has not had measurable effect on the city’s housing stock, however “affordable” is defined. The obvious solution is to extend it. “We need to allow more time to allow more mixed income housing,” Young told the council.

Bill 10-0601 Plastic Bag Reduction Program – Deferring Start.

Pushes back the time-of-less-bags in Baltimore one month, to Dec. 1.

The Read: Councilman James Kraft’s (D-1st District) longtime dream of cutting the numbers of plastic bags blowing around the city’s streets, getting snagged in trees, and saturating the harbor is nigh. In his original bill, food merchants would have to stop automatically giving away bags with every purchase by Sept. 1, and, if they wanted to give bags out at all, enroll in a city program and post their policy of only giving out bags on request. Late enrollment in the program carried a $500 fee. The late fee was to start in November. This bill would delay it until December.

Bill 10-0596 Sale of Property – 1125 N. Calvert St.

Authorizes the Mayor and City Council to sell the Inn at Government House, which is “no longer needed for public use.”

The Read: The Baltimore Development Corporation recommended this sale in January. As usual, there is a private group—this one led by adaptive reuse specialist Martin P. Azola—ready and willing to take the 110-year-old historic building off the city’s hands. The former mansion was established in the mid-1980s as a reception area for government officials, then leased to the Baltimore International Culinary College in 1993 as a training center for chefs and hotel managers. The plan is to renovate it and run it like a business; apparently service in the 18-room hotel has been spotty at best for years, and maintenance has been deferred. This puts the Inn in league with several other Mount Vernon hotels. If all goes according to the $6 million renovation plan the inn will reopen next year with 17 rooms, a restaurant, and meeting space.

Bill 10-0598 Franchise – Private Fuel Pipeline Under and Across a Portion of the Frankfurst Avenue Right of Way.

Would allow Apex Oil Company to lay new 12-inch pipes under the street and CSX railroad tracks.

The Read: Apex, headquartered in Missouri, is planning to install new, larger pipes in its oil storage terminal called Center Point at the corner of Vera Street and Frankfurst Avenue just east of the Brooklyn neighborhood. This is probably a good thing, as the company spilled an estimated 80,000 gallons of fuel oil there a few years back (“Crying Over Spilled Petroleum,” Mobtown Beat, Feb. 20, 2008). Word then was that the old underground pipes, 8 or 10 inches in diameter, were replaced with above-ground pipes. The planned new 12-inch pipes would also be above ground, mostly—but 6 feet under where they cross the road and the railway.

Bill 10-0224R Investigative Hearing – Broadcasting of Baltimore City Government Proceedings.

Would examine the logistical requirements of broadcasting Board of Estimates, Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, and liquor board hearings on the city’s cable television channel.

The Read: “I call this the transparency and accountability bill,” Council President Young said as he introduced the resolution, which is co-sponsored by all but one council member. Decisions by the city’s spending board, zoning board, and liquor license board are as important as those made by the City Council, Young said. They are not televised as the council meetings are, however, and they usually take place during regular working hours, when most citizens are unable to attend. Young says he hopes televising those meetings “will lead to more consistent decision making.” Councilman Robert Curran (D-3rd District), the only council member who did not sign on as a cosponsor, explained his reticence after the meeting. “I’m for it, if we have the funds,” he said. “But you can’t mandate something without a source of funds.”

The next City Council meeting is Oct. 4.

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