Havre de Grace considers taller buildings by waterfront

Havre de Grace's waterfront skyline could change dramatically if a new zoning map is approved by the city's planning commission, which began meeting this summer to discuss the draft of the map made by a city council committee earlier this year.

The proposed map features a waterfront overlay district that could allow buildings as high as 10 stories by the Susquehanna River.

Planning Committee Chairman Volney Ford said Wednesday the committee, which included three city council members, thought higher buildings might preserve more waterfront views.

"The idea was, as I have been told, is, let's encourage buildings to be slimmer and taller and not lower and wider," Ford explained.

Councilman Fred Cullum, who was on the committee in the past, said, however, that it does not make a difference if a waterfront building is one story or 10, in terms of public views of the water.

"Once you've built the building, you've bought the view," he said.

The issue of waterfront building heights will not be addressed by the planning commission until it takes up the issue of lot specifications, Ford said.

He said the commission just concluded its fifth workshop and hopes to wrap up four more over the next two weeks. The meetings are all open to the public and the commission welcomes input and comment from citizens, he said.

The most pressing issue brought up by residents so far has been about proposed changes to residential-business zoning on Union Avenue, Ford said.

"The thing that drew the most attention clearly was the proposed shrinkage of RB on Union Avenue, taking the south end and turning it to residential," he said.

"The folks, almost to a person, said, 'Please don't do that,'" he said.

Ford noted the planning commission is only making recommendations to the city council, which will ultimately decide the final version of the zoning ordinance to approve.

"Our job is to go over it with a fine-tooth comb, make recommendations back to the city council planning committee based on our experience operating with a zoning ordinance all these years," Ford said.

The city council wants a finished product from the planning commission in October and hopes to be completely done with the new zoning by the start of 2014.

The council will also solicit more public feedback after it gets the planning commission's recommendations.

The council's initial announcement of its completed draft did not get much interest when it was revealed at a meeting this summer, but Ford said attendance at the planning commission workshops has grown.

"Almost all of the citizen input to date has been to us," he said. "The workshops that we have been having have been quite well-attended and we have taken a huge amount of input from the citizens."

Most of the changes to the draft discussed by the planning commission so far have been fairly minor, Ford said.

The most significant has been the suggestion of a Central Business District.

Under the council's proposal, the current RB district, which encompasses most of the waterfront area east of Washington Street, would be broken up into RB1 and RB2, with different uses and densities in the eastern part of downtown versus farther west.

Ford, however, said: "We think there is a big difference between the two or three downtown blocks and the rest of the RB district."

More information on the proposed zoning ordinance is available on the city's website at http://www.HavredeGraceMD.com.

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