Today's blog post was written by Ben Groff and presented in partnership with Citizens Planning and Housing Association Ben is a transportation advocate with background in legal and policy issues.
The Transform Baltimore zoning code rewrite was launched nearly 10 years ago to modernize Baltimore’s zoning code and implement the vision of the city's last master plan, 2006's LIVE EARN PLAY LEARN.
That vision included many goals that can only be furthered with livable streets, and a key strategy to accomplish this was to be the Transform Baltimore zoning code rewrite.
The LIVE category, there were three overarching livability goals:
- Strengthen neighborhoods,
- Improve the design and quality of the built environment, and
- Improve transportation access and choice for city residents.
Other categories included livable streets goals, too.
- The EARN category called for improving transportation access to jobs.
- The PLAY category spoke to improving recreation for residents and visitors alike and emphasized open space. It's the PLAY strategy that called for Baltimore to develop its Bicycle Master Plan and build out park/trail systems.
- The LEARN category called for safe and convenient transportation to educational facilities.
The Transform Baltimore Legislation
In 2012, the Transform Baltimore legislation was finally unveiled as Council Bill 12-0152. Over the years, CPHA and others have closely monitored progress on the bills which has been slow and painstaking.
Earlier this year, 29 community organizations signed a letter calling for the code to be implemented as soon as possible, and making some general and specific recommendations to maintain the implementation of a livable streets-style vision. CPHA's Gregory Friedman published an article in Greater Greater Washington urging the same.
In about the last two months, City Council's Land Use and Transportation Committee has sprung into action, moving rapidly through hundreds of proposed amendments that have been accumulating since 2012.
Some of these amendments jeopardize the livable streets vision that Transform Baltimore was meant to implement.
How the Code Promotes Livable Streets
At the highest level, the zoning code gives Baltimore a form-based code, instead of a code based on "Euclidean" segregation of uses and restrictive regulations. It promotes livable streets by:
- removing development barriers to mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods,
- requiring designs to meet minimal standards related to quality place design
- eliminating wasteful parking requirements, and
- encouraging pedestrian, bike, and transit use
In short, the code creates livable streets by enabling an attractive and diverse urban fabric throughout Baltimore, and removing last-century requirements that effectively force car ownership and subsidize or encourage access-adverse development.
What's Happening Now
There are three types of amendments:
- Amendments to the text of the bill itself (Council Bill 12-0152),
- Amendments to the tables (that set forth in concise form things like parking requirements for different types of uses), and
- Amendments to maps (the maps show, for the whole city, the zoning district of each property on adoption of the Code.
This Monday, December 14, 2015 the Committee will work through some especially important amendments to Titles 14 and if time permits, 15 and 16. As I understand it, the considered amendments are amendments to the bill text – the titles – only.
- Title 14 contains provisions related to uses (including neighborhood commercial)
- Title 15 contains provisions related to site development, (improvements made to an existing site)
- Title 16 contains provisions related to parking.
Additionally, amendments to the Title 10 provisions affecting parking in the C-5 (downtown) district will also be voted on with Title 16.
How the Amendments Undermine Livable Streets
Amendments generally undermine the livable streets vision in the code when they:
- Reassert wasteful parking requirements that promote access-adverse development
- Restrict mixed-uses in favor of segregated uses
- Needlessly restrict residential density in favor of low-density, access-adverse development
- Undermine the central goal of enabling well-designed places for people instead of cars
The worst of the worst amendments include:
Amendment T-545. Section 16-601 contains exemptions to minimum parking requirements, and amendments were introduced to eliminate most of the exemptions, including T-545, T-633, T-699, T-546, and T-547. In particular T-545 would reassert parking minimums in the C-1, C-1-E, C-5, R-MU, and D-MU districts, which under the present code are exempt from minimums.
Amendments T-374-380. Section 10-503(I) in Title 10 transforms parking and access in the C-5 downtown district. This district is roughly bordered by the waterfront/Key Highway, MLK, President Street, and Franlkin Street. 10-503(I) currently bans new surface parking lots, requires active ground-floor uses, and bans new curb cuts on primary streets (Baltimore, Charles, Eutaw, Pratt, and Howard). Amendments T-374 through T-380 would eliminate all of these requirements.
Amendments T-499 and T-628. These amendments would seek to amend Title 14 to eliminate the Neighborhood Commercial use. T-628 has been purportedly withdrawn.
Amendments T-542 and T-528. This amendment to Title 16 removes the provision allowing for land banking of 25% of required parking (by setting aside open space) and fee-in-lieu parking, allowing developers to fund alternative transportation instead of providing all the required parking.
Today, Bikemore and CPHA urge you to TAKE ACTION and OPPOSE HARMFUL ZONING CODE AMENDMENTS on this issue by emailing the members of the Land Use and Transportation Committee. We've created a form email you can send to all members of the committee by clicking this link.
Below are tables detailing the amendments in Titles 14, 15, and 16 that would do the most damage to the livability goals of the Comprehensive Master Plan and the new Code.