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Hampden parking woes lead to call for strict limits

A proposal to sharply limit parking in part of Hampden is drawing concern from some who think the new restrictions would merely shift parking woes to other streets in the popular Baltimore neighborhood.

A major redevelopment project at the Rotunda shopping mall has prompted some residents to push for a residential parking permit zone nearby. But some business owners along 36th Street worry that restrictions a couple of blocks north would make parking more difficult for everyone, including patrons of their cafes, boutiques and restaurants.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke says she introduced the legislation to help ease the parking crunch caused by the increasing popularity of The Avenue, as 36th Street is known. The Rotunda project, which includes hundreds of apartments, an organic grocery and a new theater, could make parking even harder, she said.

Clarke said the legislation is a starting point, not an exact prescription for change.

"We're getting feedback. We're getting push-back and we're getting support," Clarke said. "Basically, I think when we put all of that in the mix, we should come out with a product people can live with."

Her bill, which would make parking restrictions in north Hampden among the toughest in the city, would limit parking for visitors to one hour. The restrictions would be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Some who live closer to 36th Street, which would not be included in the new parking zone, would be eligible for permits to park to the north if they wished. Clarke's bill would create a residential parking permit zone along stretches of Roland and Elm avenues, 37th and 38th streets, Pleasant Place and other nearby roads.

Lori Rene, who lives in the 3800 block of Elm Ave., said she and her neighbors sometimes have to circle the block repeatedly to find a spot. Without driveways, garages or parking pads, residents sometimes have to walk long distances with groceries and children in all kinds of weather, she said.

Some residents say they avoid staying out late on weekends to avoid parking headaches.

"If we don't have parking restrictions, we'll never be able to park," said Rene, an administrative assistant at Pepsi who has lived on Elm Avenue for about 40 years. She said she suggested the one-hour parking for visitors. "It's a mess. It's been a real mess."

But Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, said the 24-hour parking enforcement zone would not solve the problem, but would shift it to another area.

Permit zones don't "make the cars go away, it just pushes them back to the next available block," said Ray, who owns Atomic Books on Falls Road. And for visitors coming to shop or have dinner, the parking restrictions would seem like "You Are Not Welcome Here" signs, he said.

Ray said the restrictions also would make it inconvenient for residents to throw a dinner party, cookout or have overnight guests. He pointed to the experience of Canton, which tried and scrapped residential parking permits after a short time.

Clarke's proposal "seems excessively draconian," Ray said, adding that he believes it is being driven by a small number of people. "We need to have a larger conversation about this," he said.

Chris Bell, senior vice president for Rotunda developer Hekemian & Co., said mall customers will find all the parking they need on site. Plans include more than 1,200 parking spaces in surface and underground lots and an eight-story garage.

"We've taken great pains to make sure our tenants and guests will not impact the parking in the surrounding neighborhoods," said Bell, who noted that project planners exceeded the number of spots required by city zoning.

He said Hekemian isn't taking a position on the parking legislation, saying the company doesn't want to insert itself into a community discussion.

To many Hampden residents, the strict parking rules sound like the best solution.

Karen "Kit" Arnold said she's excited to see the neighborhood thriving, but doesn't want longtime members of the community to suffer for it.

"Parking is at a huge premium now — I can't even imagine what it will be like," said Arnold, who has lived in her house on Elm Avenue for more than a decade. "By the time everyone gets home, we're packed bumper to bumper. What other solution is there?'

Mary Crowther of Elm Avenue said Hampden residents deserve some relief.

"When you get home from work, you would like to have a parking spot," she said. "It's not like we have driveways."

Crowther said her husband, Rolan, recently received a handicap parking spot for their only vehicle in front of their brick rowhouse, but she's worried about accommodating friends who visit. Under the proposed rules, she could offer them a visitor's permit.

The Rotunda project isn't the only one giving Hampden residents and business owners anxiety over parking conditions.

A developer is proposing to build 29 rowhouses on the site of an old warehouse behind The Avenue. The houses would be three-story, single-family homes. At a recent meeting with merchants, a spokesman for the project addressed concerns by noting that each house would have both a one-car garage and a parking pad.

Tiffany James, a spokeswoman for the city Parking Authority, said the agency is developing a long-term plan to address parking needs in Hampden. Among the options are creating more angled parking, adding Zipcars for vehicle sharing and working with private lot owners to make more spaces available.

Building a garage, which has been discussed in the past, would cost about $25,000 per space, she said.

The agency is collecting data for the master plan, but does not have a date for its completion. A task force made up of residents and businesses also is evaluating potential solutions.

"We're trying to be proactive," she said.

The Parking Authority's official position on Clarke's bill is "not opposed." But James warned that residential parking zones do not solve the problem of neighbors owning too many cars for the available street parking.

Creating a new permit zone "is not a magic bullet. It doesn't guarantee that the parking issues are going to be resolved. You need to a take multifaceted approach," she said.

A residential parking permit zone already exists in parts of Hampden, but it's less restrictive than the one proposed, with visitors limited to two-hour stays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Throughout the city, permits for residents and their visitors cost $20 apiece annually.

Clarke's proposal is expected to be vetted before the planning commission and the Hampden Community Council in the coming weeks. The City Council also will hold a hearing, which has not been scheduled.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Larry Perl contributed to this article.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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