Monday, August 17, 2015

Transform Baltimore zoning reform bogged down with no end in sight

It was back in the last century when the AIA and the Baltimore Urban Design Committee hosted a zoning conference in Baltimore with Milwaukee's Mayor Norquist as the keynote speaker. He explained how urgent the reform of age old zoning codes is for cities. Main reason: Most zoning codes are based on suburban models and make rebuilding cities that cherish urbanity all but impossible. At that time Norquist was either still Mayor or had just assumed his role at the Congress for New Urbanism and "form based code" was still a nascent concept.
When "rewrite" was still called "transform"

Since then lots of water has flowed down the Patapsco and cities across the country have revamped their zoning codes. Baltimore City still has the same 1971 code in place.

It is not for a lack of trying. In fact, the city embarked on a major overhaul of its code in 2008, a full seven years ago, first under the title Transform Baltimore and then the less fascinating moniker Rewrite Baltimore. They eyed Denver as a precedent and even hired the same consultants. In June 2010 the city released the first draft of a new Zoning Code and in November 2010 draft maps followed accompanied by 12 city-wide meetings and hundreds of neighborhood meetings to discuss the proposed text and map.  A version 2 followed.

Then ever so slowly the whole process started to bog down in the quick sands of politics. The last "News" entry on the city website dates back to 2014. Since then the codes rests in the hands of the city council which began a page by page review and eventually lost all energy to continue. A recent effort of getting the puppy moving again resulted in some new draft with comments that staff re-submitted to the council. As the BBJ reported last week, this latest attempt once again overwhelmed our the city council and a request for more review time was submitted.
Model: Denver's rezoning approach

I have written about the systemic flaws in Baltimore's approach on my main blog and bemoaned particularly the fact that Baltimore did not develop a physical vision before trying to codify a form. I consider the new code still deeply flawed in many respects (for example in its definitions of Transit Oriented Development) but agree with my colleagues of the AIA zoning work-group that the new flawed code would be vastly better than the convoluted old code.

“Comprehensive rezoning hasn’t been done in my lifetime,” said Cole, 42, a former city council member. “This is perhaps the most complicated piece of legislation that the council has had to take up in decades. … I don’t question at all the commitment of the council. They are all committed to seeing this through.”
Still, he said, the delays are creating a quandary for some developers whose projects would be permissible under the new code, but require a laborious rezoning process under the current code. Some are unsure whether to go through a costly rezoning or hold out hope for the new code to pass soon.
“We’re getting to the point now where it is creating a little uncertainty in the economic development world and we need to try to get this done as soon possible,” Cole said.(Baltimore Business Journal)

ay posted. Or even better, get involved so the council moves this before it will be entirely consumed by the upcoming elections.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore Business Journal about yet another zoning delay
Indianapolis "Indy Rezone"

1 comment:

  1. The zoning code re-write is perhaps the most glaring example of the dreary state of political leadership we have in Baltimore right now. They are either incompetent, hamstrung, or just asleep. Throw the bums out. The bunch of 'em!