Baltimore City has not had a comprehensive zoning rewrite since 1971, but that could change this December if Transform Baltimore, an 8-year project to update and modernize zoning laws, passes the final City Council vote. In its 8-year history, Transform Baltimore has considered over 800 proposed amendments, in which over 290 have been approved by the Council. However, as the final vote approaches, it becomes increasingly clear that Transform Baltimore should pass. Its multi-faceted approach will truly update, modernize, and transform Baltimore into a better city for its residents.
Transform Baltimore benefits the city in three ways. First of all, it simplifies zoning codes, which makes it easier for certain types of businesses, ones that would be beneficial to the community, to open in the city. Second, it shuts down and dis-incentivizes businesses that have a negative impact on the community from establishing themselves. Lastly, it eliminates minimum parking space requirements and encourages the inclusion of more walkways in Baltimore.
The first way TB benefits Baltimore City is through the elimination of barriers on Rowhouse commercial use for certain purposes. This would allow small shops, deemed beneficial to the community, to open within inner city communities with limited bureaucratic barriers. Iconic corner stores could be brought back in the form of small convenience shops, grocery stores, or even local entertainment centers. Not only would this have economic benefits for both the residents and local shop owners, but it would also revitalize the cultural and social atmospheres of these inner city environments, many of which have been desolate and forgotten, or lost to gentrification. This could go a long way in creating a mitigating environment for criminal activity.
TB also benefits Baltimore City through the Alcohol Outlet Density Reduction Ordinance. Unfortunately, many Baltimore inner city residents live closer to a liquor shop than to a grocery store, which in itself is unacceptable. Furthermore, many studies in different American metropolises have confirmed that the presence of dedicated liquor stores harms the social environment of a community, especially for the upbringing of children. The Alcohol Outlet Density Reduction Ordinance calls for many of these stores to move to another location, close, or sell something else within two years. In order to counter saturation of liquor stores, the new code stipulates that liquor stores have to be at least 300 feet apart. TB rightly makes a clear assault on the entrenched liquor store chain within Baltimore City.
Of course, it would be easy to call TB anti-business in nature because of the AODR ordinance. If people demand liquor stores then why should they not be allowed to open? However, this is not an accurate depiction of consumer demand. Previously, the Baltimore zoning code allowed businesses to go through the BMZA, a zoning board, or the City Council to open a store. The conditional use clause within TB eliminates the City Council option as a means to establishing a business in Baltimore City. Previously, the liquor lobby was able to use its influence within the City Council to allow them to establish stores, but the conditional use clause now eliminates that possibility. Basically, an oversaturation of liquor stores could only be achieved because of corporate lobbying, not consumer demand. Furthermore, liquor stores themselves can be seen as anti-business, as other businesses will be hesitant to expand to locations near these stores.
Lastly, TB benefits Baltimore through the elimination of minimum parking requirements and the encouragement for building walkways. Minimum parking requirements are extremely detrimental to the urban environment. First of all, the mass of often unused parking spaces, with its sprawling asphalt, creates a hostile urban environment. Furthermore, they encourage the use of cars over public transportation or walking, which increases the city’s carbon footprint significantly. With the elimination of these requirements, combined with new walkways, urban farms and bio-parks, people will be discouraged from driving their own cars, and more likely to walk or take public transportation.
Unfortunately, if TB does not pass a final vote this December, it will have to start all over with the new mayor’s administration. That would be a huge step backward for Baltimore, as TB clearly has the ability to further assist in revitalizing the city. It would create better living environments for many of the city’s poorest residents while simultaneously mitigating our impact on the environment. TB is truly transformative, and hopefully City Council members will see that.
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