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Councilmania

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

On the agenda for Aug. 9

Bill 10-0586 Sharp Leadenhall Historic District

Would designate the South Baltimore’s Sharp Leadenhall as a historic district.

The Read: Sharp Leadenhall is the final remnant of the city’s oldest African-American settlement, with more than 200 years of history. Crammed between Federal Hill and I-395, the neighborhood is much smaller than it once was. In the 1960s and ‘70s, the pressures of urban renewal led to the demolition of hundreds of homes in the area, shrinking the already diminutive community. Gentrification continues to put pressure on the neighborhood, but a historic designation—which theoretically protects against demolition and inappropriate development—could help to slow that process.

Bill 10-0587 Baltimore City Landmark List: Public Interiors - the Senator Theatre

Would designate the interior of the Senator Theatre as a city landmark.

The Read: The long, fiery debate over the Senator appears to be simmering down. The city took ownership of the theater at a foreclosure auction last summer and has been sparring with former owner Tom Kiefaber and the Friends of the Senator Theatre ever since. (On the theater web site, the group contended that the purchase process and subsequent manner of choosing an operator was “rife throughout with collusion, fraud, and deceit.”) James “Buzz” Cusack and daughter Kathleen Cusack, who own the Charles Theatre and now operate the Senator, have proposed to restore original 1939 features in the building, as well as add an addition for a crepe shop and restrooms. The landmark designation—along with planned renovations—would make the project eligible for tax credits. The Senator is already on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bill 10-0589 Solid Waste Management Plan - Amendment

Would add L&J Waste Recycling, LLC to the waste disposal and recycling facilities listed in the city’s solid waste management plan.

The Read: Councilwoman Agnes Welch (D-9th District) sponsored this bill; L&J is based in her district.

Bill 10-0590 Rooming Houses - Registration Fee

Would reinstate an inadvertently repealed licensing fee for rooming houses.

The Read: In June, the Council passed legislation that requires owners of vacant residential properties and commercial buildings to file an annual registration fee, or pay a penalty. But in so doing, the Council accidently repealed the licensing fee for rooming houses. This bill would reinstate a fee for the owners of rooming houses, but reconfigure it as a registration fee. The fee would be $25 a room.

Bill 10-0591 Rezoning - 923-937 Eastern Avenue

Would change the zoning for a property at 923-937 Eastern Avenue from an industrial to a business designation.

The Read: The property is the former home of Little Italy’s Boccaccio restaurant. After the owner died in 2008, the restaurant closed. It was sold at auction in February to Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who paid $1.45 million. According to Tom Marudas, vice president of the Law Offices of Peter Angelos, this zoning bill is a simple update, bringing the property into conformance with the zoning in the surrounding area. Marudas was mum on plans for the property. “We’re just looking at a variety of options,” he said.

Bill 10-0592 Urban Renewal - Oldtown - Amendment

Would amend the urban renewal plan for Oldtown to allow a pawnshop at 533/535 Oldtown Mall.

The Read: The Oldtown community, a historic neighborhood east of downtown, has been blighted for decades, and a target for redevelopment just as long. (Last May, for instance, the Baltimore Planning Commission approved a master plan for redeveloping the community.) City Council passed an urban renewal plan in 1970, but little renewing has resulted. This amendment, sponsored by Councilman Carl Stokes (D-District 12), would allow a pawnshop to open as a “nonconforming use” in the Old Town Mall. As is, the plan forbids pawnshops, along with such businesses as “poultry and rabbit killing establishments,” massage parlors, and liquor stores.

Resolution 10-0221R Informational Hearing - Revenue Enhancement Measures

Would request that the city’s director of finance and the chief of the Bureau of Budget and Management Research periodically review recent revenue enhancement measures.

The Read: In the face of a hefty $121 million deficit in fiscal year 2011, the city recently adopted numerous “revenue enhancement measures” that are expected to bring in $48.08 million. They included increases in the parking tax rate and the hotel tax rate, as well as a controversial two-cent beverage container tax. Councilwoman Helen Holton (D-8th District) introduced this sensible bill, with the support of everyone else on Council. It would ask that city finance officials track these measures to see if they are “meeting, exceeding, or falling short” of expectations. “Here’s an opportunity for us to really be on top of things, instead of always on the back end,” Holton said.

In other news, the Council narrowly passed a bill that will now go on the ballot. Subject to voter approval, it would amend the city charter to change the city’s bidding process. It would allow the mayor and City Council to set dollar thresholds for contracts that must be formally advertised. (Currently, contracts of $25,000 or more require formal advertising.) Contracts that exceed that dollar threshold would have to be advertised in at least one daily newspaper as well as electronically. Six councilmembers voted against the bill, including Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District). “This bill doesn’t ask us to substitute higher thresholds for advertising. It does away with them,” she said. “I could have lived with higher numbers, but not no numbers.”

The Council also flew through several bills authorizing the sale of particular city properties. These included small plots in West Baltimore and Southeast Baltimore, as well as a building at 1536 N. Caroline St. that has been vacant for more than a decade. The Council also gave preliminary approval to a transfer of $200,000 from the Health Department to Mayoralty Education Grants. Another routine bill would approve the issuance of school system revenue bonds by the Board of School Commissioners.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Sept. 20 at 5 p.m.

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