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Councilmania

On the agenda for April 11

The City Council convened for its only meeting in April on an unseasonably balmy Monday. Despite the long agenda, councilmembers took a moment to mark the 35th anniversary of a tragic incident. On April 13, 1976, a man named Charles Hopkins stormed a temporary City Hall with a gun in hand, angry that his carryout business had been shut down. He killed Councilmember Dominic Leone Sr., and wounded others. Councilmember Joseph Curran, father of current Councilmember Robert Curran (D-3rd District), suffered a heart attack during the incident that contributed to his death nearly a year later.

Bill 11-0679 City Streets - Opening - Certain Streets and Alleys Bounded by Reisterstown Road, Rogers Avenue, Gist Avenue and Hayward Avenue

Bill 11-0680 City Streets - Closing - Certain Streets and Alleys Bounded by Reisterstown Road, Rogers Avenue, Gist Avenue, and Hayward Avenue

Bill 11-0681 Sale of Property - Former Beds of Certain Streets and Alleys Bounded by Reisterstown Road, Rogers Avenue, Gist Avenue, and Hayward Avenue

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration is moving from its Mondawmin location to the Hilltop Shopping Center on the corner of Reisterstown Road and Rogers Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. These companion bills, which would slightly rearrange existing roadways in the vicinity, are associated with that move.

Bill 11-0682 Metropolitan District of Baltimore County - Extension 163 Would “extend the Metropolitan District of Baltimore County” to a tract of land in the county.

The Read: Baltimore County’s public water system is controlled by Baltimore City. The Baltimore City Council must therefore approve any new water lines in the county. This “extension” would allow an approximately 109-acre tract of land near Wildwood Park to fall within the Metropolitan District of Baltimore County and thus access the city’s water.

Bill 11-0683 Urban Renewal - Market Center - Amendment Would renew the Market Center Urban Renewal Plan.

The Read: The Market Center Urban Renewal Plan, which encompasses a good chunk of Mount Vernon and downtown Baltimore, has been in place since 1977. It was meant to revitalize the area “as a mixed use neighborhood linking the University Center area with the Central Business District.” This bill would renew the plan through Dec. 31, 2014, and add an amendment allowing for the acquisition and redevelopment of a parking lot on the corner of Franklin Street and Park Avenue.

Bill 11-0684 Urban Renewal - Waverly Business Area - Amendment Would amend the Waverly Business Area Urban Renewal Plan to prohibit bail bond agencies.

Bill 11-0685 Water - Required Meter Readings Would require the Public Works Department to make actual rather than estimated water meter readings.

The Read: “This is legislation that requires, ‘Hey, we’ve got water meters. You’ve got to read them!’” Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) said by way of introducing this bill. “We’ve had an onslaught of spiking residential water bills.” Clarke mentioned several examples of exorbitant bills, including one constituent, a rowhouse resident, who recently received an $11,000 water bill. When the resident investigated, Clarke said, it turned out her water meter was last read sometime before the blizzard of February 2010, and the bill had been based on faulty estimates. Councilmembers Helen Holton (D-8th District) and Jim Kraft (D-1st District) echoed Clarke’s concerns. “We get an e-mail or a call probably every other day about water bills,” Kraft said. The bill would require the Public Works Department to read and record water meters four times per year; no residential bills based on estimated readings could be issued.

Bill 11-0686 City Property - Renaming the Upton Boxing Center to the Joe Gans Boxing Center

Would rename the center, located at 1901 Pennsylvania Ave., after Joe Gans, the first African-American world boxing champion and a Baltimore native (“The Old Master,” Feature, Feb. 17, 2010).

Bill 11-0687 Yard Waste - Bagging

Would amend the rules regarding how yard waste is bagged.

The Read: Councilmember William Cole (D-11th District) said at the meeting that he was introducing the measure because residents are receiving unfair citations for yard waste. “Code enforcement comes through, doing what they’re supposed to do, making sure people are putting their trash out in cans,” Cole said, “and they can’t differentiate between yard waste and regular trash.” (Residents are not required to place yard waste in a can.) The bill would require that yard waste be bundled, bagged in clear plastic bags, or clearly labeled as “yard waste.”

Bill 11-0688 City Property - Renaming Lehigh and Gough Park to Gloria Hertzfelt Playground Would rename a small park in Greektown after a neighborhood resident.

The Read: Under this bill, the park, currently named after the corner it sits on, would be renamed after the person who helped to renovate it and has long overseen its maintenance. According to the bill, Gloria Hertzfelt is an active member in various neighborhood associations, and has volunteered with numerous organizations, including the city’s Youth Summer Job Corps, John Booth Senior Center, and the Southeastern Police District’s Council of Community Relations.

Resolution 11-0273R Approving the Submission of an Application to the State of Maryland for the Expansion of Baltimore City’s Consolidated Enterprise Zone and Creation of One New Focus Area

The Read: Enterprise zones are meant to attract development. Businesses making capital investments in a property or hiring new employees within a zone are eligible for reductions in property and employment taxes. This resolution, introduced at the request of the Baltimore Development Corporation, would allow for the creation of a new enterprise zone that would cover a good portion of Reservoir Hill and the southern tail of Hampden, where Falls Road skirts the Jones Falls. It would also allow for a “focus area” in the industrial southern tip of the city, including Fairfield Industrial Area and Hawkins Point. A focus area is a sort of enhanced enterprise zone, where tax benefits for businesses are even greater. The resolution was immediately adopted, with votes of approval from all but Councilmember Carl Stokes (D-12th District), who has in the past criticized the city’s penchant for giving tax breaks to developers.

Resolution 11-0274R Corporate Sponsorship of City Assets Would call a hearing to explore the idea of raising revenue for the city through corporate sponsorships.

The Read: Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) introduced this resolution, which calls for looking into the legality of corporate sponsorships, and how the city might best court them. “We can only cut so much before it becomes painful,” Young said. “On the other hand, raising fees and taxes is not sustainable. We have to be creative.” The resolution suggests that the first step might be an audit of city agencies to determine what programs, events, or assets might be ripe for corporate sponsorship. The full Council membership co-sponsored the bill, and Councilmember Curran rose to put in a good word for BARCS. “I’d love to see a corporate sponsor go in and sponsor the animal shelter,” he said.

Resolution 11-0275R Informational Hearing - The Preservation of Read’s Drug Store and the Superblock Development

Would invite the Baltimore Development Corporation, the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, the Department of Planning’s Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel, and preservation advocates to brief the Council on plans for Read’s Drug Store.

The Read: In 1955, a group of Morgan State University students organized a sit-in protest at the segregated lunch counter of what was then Read’s Drug Store. It was the first successful student-led sit-in protest in Baltimore, and a model for the famous sit-in five years later in Greensboro, N.C. The building lies within the footprint of the “Superblock” project, a long-delayed, $150 million retail and housing development, and it is slated for at least partial demolition. The hearing would call together all interested parties to discuss what can be done to preserve the building. (The day after the Council meeting, the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation voted to give the building temporary landmark status, a move that protects it from demolition for at least six months.).

Resolution 11-0276R Informational Hearing - YouthWorks 2011

Would invite the director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development to provide statistics concerning the YouthWorks program to the Council.

The Read: YouthWorks is a city program that provides summer jobs to local teenagers. This resolution, introduced by Councilmember William “Pete” Welch (D-9th District), asks for statistics concerning the residential demographics of participating youth, the return rate of youth, and the return rate of participating businesses or agencies. The resolution reads, in part: “Almost 30 years since embarking on a summer employment program for Baltimore City’s youth, it is useful to examine whether current programs continue to address the goal of providing our youth a constructive choice to the increasingly seductive siren’s call of drug-driven and gang-related anti-social behavior.”

Resolution 11-0278R Investigative Hearing - Payment of Lead Poisoning Judgements

Would ask the Housing commissioner, the city solicitor, and the director of Finance to report to the Council on the legal cases concerning the lead paint poisoning of former residents of the city’s Housing Authority.

The Read: The city’s Housing Authority is facing court judgments totaling nearly $12 million from lawsuits filed by residents of public housing who suffered lead-paint poisoning. The city has thus far refused to pay the money, due to lack of funds. The hearing would require the invited parties to discuss the cases, the decision not to award judgments, and possible funding sources to compensate the victims. “We have to find a resolution for the families,” said Councilmember Belinda Conaway (D-7th District), who introduced the resolution. “Is there a plan? Are you coming up with something? Because right now all of us look bad.”

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for May 2 at 5 p.m.

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