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Councilmania

On the agenda for Dec. 6

Monday’s City Council meeting was nearly as fiery as the five-alarm blaze raging just down the street. The debate surrounded a bill that would create the Harbor Point Development District between Fells Point and Harbor East, on the site of a former chromium plant. If approved, the bill would allow the city to issue bonds to pay for infrastructure on the site, an incentive called tax increment financing (TIF). The bill easily passed to third reader, but Councilmember Carl Stokes (D-12th District), who voted against it, used the occasion to give an impassioned speech on city development policy.

“I want us to stop and examine what we’re doing with the taxpayers’ dollars,” Stokes said. “A generation ago we were told that if we put most of our tax dollars into the harbor, the next generation would reap the benefits of that investment. And a generation later, we’re still sending the majority of our dollars down to the harbor.” Stokes called the city’s widespread usage of TIFs “corruption with a capital ‘C.’” Councilmember James Kraft (D-1st District) responded that calling the Harbor Point process corrupt was “insulting” and “detestable.”

In other news, Councilmember Agnes Welch (D-9th District) has retired. Registered voters who have lived in the 9th District for at least one year and are U.S. citizens over the age of 21 are eligible to apply for her seat. Go to baltimorecitycouncil.com for more information.

Bill 10-0624 Planned Unit Development - Amendment 1 - Greenmount West - Arts and Entertainment District

Would approve an amendment to a zoning bill governing the Greenmount West Arts and Entertainment District.

The Read: The former Lebow garment factory at 1500 Barclay St. (“Industrial Arts,” Mobtown Beat, May 12, 2004), vacant for decades, has long been a thorn in the side of city Housing officials. The building’s former owner, New York-based industrialist Abraham Zion, incurred numerous housing code violations for debris, graffiti, and falling chunks of concrete. After a series of lawsuits with the city, the owner has finally agreed to sell. Seawall Development Corp.—the entity behind the renovation of Miller’s Court in Remington and Union Mill in Hampden—is the contract purchaser. Once the building is refurbished, the school system is slated to lease the building for a fashion, architecture, and design middle and high school, to open circa 2012. The bill would put 1500 Barclay under Greenmount West Arts and Entertainment District zoning, and allow for the inclusion of the school.

Bill 10-0625 Sale of Property - 1600 Guilford Avenue

Would authorize the city to sell a vacant lot at 1600 Guilford Ave.

The Read: The Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School already occupies a portion of the property. This bill would allow the city to sell the school an additional 1.7 acres to be used for school expansion.

Bill 10-0626 Sale of Property - 3906 Old York Road

Bill 10-0627 Sale of Property - 607 Wyanoke Avenue

Would authorize the city to sell several empty lots.

The Read: Both properties were initially part of the city’s new Vacants to Value program, a housing initiative meant to speed the sale and renovation of abandoned properties. Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District), the bill’s sponsor, pulled them off the list. According to Clarke, the Old York Road property functions as the side lawn of St. James Free Baptist Church. “It was promised long ago to the pastor,” she said. “And I just want to make sure we have a City Council hearing and it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.” The Wyanoke Avenue lot adjoins an apartment complex in Pen Lucy.

Bill 10-0628 Rezoning - 511 South Clinton Street

Would change the zoning of a building on the corner of Marshall Court and Clinton Street in Highlandtown.

The Read: This building used to house a recreation club run by Salvation Army. Now developers want to turn it into an office space for emerging computer technology. This bill would make the required change from residential to office/residential zoning.

Bill 10-0629 Rezoning - 403-427 North Washington Street

Would change the zoning of a vacant warehouse from residential to business zoning.

The Read: This warehouse has been vacant for years. The new zoning would allow for a planned office building along with a garage and a community development center. The bill was introduced by rare lead sponsor Councilmember Warren Branch (D-13th District) at the request of an entity called MySon Development LLC.

Bill 10-0630 Police Districts - Redistricting

Would allow the police commissioner to redraw the city’s police districts.

The Read: Decades ago, when Baltimore’s police districts were drawn, the Northeastern District had such minimal crime it was known as “The Country Club.” Times have changed. The Northeastern is the city’s largest police district, at nearly 17 square miles, and crime levels are now commensurate with its size. Councilmember Bill Henry (D-4th District), one of the bill’s sponsors, says it’s time the district map reflects that. The bill would ask the commissioner to look at this year’s census data when redrawing district lines, as well as recent crime trends. It would also require the city to re-examine the police district map every 10 years. Similar proposals have perennially popped up to no avail, most recently during the Dixon administration.

Bill 10-0631 Charter Amendment - Nonlapsing Funds for Quality Schools - Reinvesting in our Youth

Would amend the City Charter to authorize the establishment of one or several funds dedicated to “enhancing the educational environment” in Baltimore.

The Read: If passed by council, signed by the mayor, and approved by voters in a referendum, this bill—introduced by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D)—would allow the city to earmark revenue toward educational improvements, in endeavors such as constructing and renovating schools, renewing athletic facilities, and modernizing education-related equipment. “When you go to different cities and states throughout this country, you see where they have larger schools, they have state-of-the-art athletic fields,” Young said. “And when you come to Baltimore City, you wonder where our priorities are.”

Bill 10-0236R Informational Hearing - Baltimore City Liquor License Board - Federal Recall of Certain Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages

Would ask the city liquor board and the health commissioner to report on how new regulations governing caffeinated alcoholic beverages will be enforced.

The Read: The city health commissioner recently banned the sale of alcoholic beverages containing caffeine, including the notorious Four Loko. But Councilmember Belinda Conaway (D-7th District), the bill’s sponsor, worries that the ban will not be enforced. This bill would require the responsible parties to report on what measures will be taken to keep the products off store shelves.

City Council Quote of the Week: “Once again the City Council has prevailed . . . It looks as if we may be extending unemployment benefits. Thanks for your resolution—it seems to have worked very quickly.” –Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District). The council had passed a resolution just half an hour earlier urging Congress to extend unemployment benefits; news came during the meeting that President Obama had reached an agreement with Republican leaders to do just that. (Andrea Appleton)

On the agenda for Dec. 9

The council had a light agenda for the last meeting before the new year. There were six items of new business, two ordinances and four resolutions. Bill 10-0632 is a rezoning of the old Coca Cola plant at 2525 Kirk Ave. so it can become a charter school in Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke’s (D) 14th District; Bill 10-0633 is an extension of the urban renewal plan for the York-Woodbourne Business Area, which Councilmember Bill Henry (D-4th District) said he introduced before he found out that all the urban renewal plans would be extended by batch legislation early next year.

“We had the lowest number of murders ever recorded in June,” Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) said, in introducing his resolution 10-0237R in support of state legislation that would increase penalties for illegal gun possession. Last year a bill that would have allowed cities and counties to set tougher gun laws died in committee. “We don’t want the whole state,” Young said. “We want it in Baltimore City.” Here are the other resolutions, which, like 10-0237R, were adopted.

10-0238R Informational Hearing - Legacy Leadership Institute on Public Policy

This is the first step toward implementing an internship for seniors in the City Council. Councilman Robert Curran (D-3rd District) introduced it, adding that “maybe Agnes [Welch, the 9th District councilmember who retired last week], who is no longer with us, would like to join as an intern.”

10-0239R Request for State Legislation - State Container Deposit Law.

This asks the state legislature to pass a 5- or 10-cent per bottle deposit law. Henry introduced the resolution by noting that 11 other states currently have a bottle return law. The deposit increases recycling and decreases litter (and the municipal expense of cleaning it) by giving poor folks an incentive to pick up cans and bottles. Councilmember James Kraft (D-1st District) spoke in favor of the resolution as well, saying that 85 to 90 percent of the trash that blows into Baltimore’s harbor consists of plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, plastic bottles, and cans. “We can tackle this problem very easily by taking these things out of the waste stream completely.”

10-0240R Dec. 21, 2010 - Homeless Person’s Memorial Day “in memory of those people who have died in our shelters, on our streets and in other places unfit for human dwelling”

Clarke introduced the resolution, noting that Dec. 21 is the longest night of the year.

Following the council meeting there was a reception for former Councilmember Agnes Welch, whom council members again lauded in comments before adjournment. Welch, greeting well-wishers just outside the council chamber, brushed off congratulations on her retirement, saying, “Retirement? I haven’t had any retirement yet! I had to work all day today!”

The next council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2011.

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