Hampden discusses parking problems and possible solutions

Jay's Valet Service's Joey Perruzzi, left, and Will Lang wait for diners at The Food Market on March 31. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda / April 2, 2013)

Property lawyer Dan Harvey has a drastic solution to Hampden's parking crunch. On Monday, he dropped it like a bomb on a meeting of the Hampden Community Council.

Harvey, president of the Cotton Duck Title Co., in the 700 block of West 36th Street, suggested Baltimore City use its power of eminent domain to buy and raze a building that houses a Bank of America branch, and three row houses next to it, in the 900 block of West 36th, aka The Avenue.

Then, the city should build a municipal parking garage, as high as five levels, on the site, Harvey said.

"I think the timing is now," he said.

Reaction was decidedly mixed.

"It's a great idea," said Steve Baker, owner of the Wholly Terra art studio, who chairs the parking committee of the Hampden Village Merchants Association. He said the idea was turned over to the city's Parking Authority, which is reviewing it.

But city Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke tried to put the brakes on. She said although Harvey's heart is in the right place, the former president of the merchants association is going too far, because his idea would displace people who live and work on The Avenue.

"No eminent domain," Clarke insisted. "No tearing down people's houses."

The idea was one of many at the meeting that drew more than 100 people to Hampden United Methodist Church. Other suggestions included expanded reverse-angle parking in the neighborhood, a public garage on the vacant lot behind the old Dogwood restaurant on The Avenue, more residential permit parking, and better use of lots in the area that are owned by businesses and underutilized for parking.

Community council board member Jay Lazar asked people in the audience to raise their hands if they have never had a parking problem in Hampden. Only a handful of hands went up.

Lazar said the council's goal is to revive a long-stalled project to develop a parking master plan for Hampden, as was proposed in the mid-2000s. The parking plan was supposed to be finished by 2009, he said.

"We're in that data collection phase once again. A year from now, we will have a parking plan, and we will present that to you," Lazar said.

Residents near the Rotunda reiterated their call for a city residential permit parking area of their own. They worry that redevelopment of the mall, including townhouse-style apartments, could impact parking on Elm Avenue and 38th Street, among other nearby streets.

"I support permit parking for the area around the Rotunda, at least at night," said Kira Dolcimascolo, of Pleasant Place, a glorified alley off Roland Avenue that runs behind The Turnover Shop.

But another area resident, Katharine Fernstrom was troubled by the prospect of several different permit parking areas in the neighborhood. She said she doesn't want such designated areas to "fragment" Hampden.

Kelly Tracey, of the 3800 block of Roland Avenue, complained about competition for parking from three college students and their boyfriends, who live in a house four doors down from the house her family has owned for 53 years. She also said a business in Hampden encourages its employees to park on her street.

"If I don't get home by 5:30 (p.m.), I don't find a space," said Tracey, a database administrator for the University of Maryland Medical Center in downtown Baltimore.

Clarke urged residents to "make a fuss" and call her office if they believe landlords are subdividing single-family homes illegally.

Hampden Community Council secretary Genny Dill said Transform Baltimore, the city's ongoing effort to rewrite comprehensive zoning laws for the first time in four decades, is a good time to fight for changes that could help solve such problems, like taking rooming houses out of R7 zoning.

Clarke said she expects the City Council to hold numerous hearings on the zoning rewrite. The first was planned for April 3.

Daniel Ewald suggested that the city expand the route of the Charm City Circulator to include Hampden. He said parking is a problem on his street, Dellwood Avenue, and that a neighbor called the police on him for parking on the curb.

Chris Doiron worried that a parking garage on The Avenue would be "a monstrosity," but asked that the business community create a valet parking service.

The Food Market, a restaurant on The Avenue, already offers complimentary valet parking, and chef/owner Chad Gauss said earlier this month he would not have opened without being able to offer the service.

There was a general consensus that when it comes to parking, Hampden, which is ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the country's 15 hippest neighborhoods, is a victim of its own success.

"The Avenue has blown up," Doiron said. "That's great. That's why a lot of us live here."