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Residents, merchants at odds over proposed permit parking in Hampden

Fearful that redevelopment of the Rotunda would make it more difficult to park on side streets, Hampden residents are asking Baltimore City to designate a new Residential Permit Parking area near the mall.

But Hampden merchants on The Avenue are leery of the idea, saying it would make parking more difficult for shoppers, especially during the holiday season.

The issue surfaced Wednesday, Oct. 10 at a Hampden Village Merchants Association meeting, where resident Genny Dill outlined plans to seek a Residential Permit Parking area around the Rotunda. Such an area would be separate and distinct from the city Parking Authority's already existing Residential Permit Parking — Area 25 — in Hampden.

Even now, "we're in a bit of a parking crunch," Dill told more than 30 merchants at the meeting in the Hampden Family Center. There aren't enough spaces on her block of Elm Avenue, overlooking the Rotunda, to accommodate residents who want to park there, she said.

Parking problems are compounded by Johns Hopkins University, which bought the former Zurich insurance complex on Keswick Road next to the mall and now calls it the Keswick Campus. JHU charges its employees to park there, so many employees park on nearby streets to avoid paying for parking, Dill said.

Salem Reiner, a JHU community liaison, confirmed that JHU makes employees pay for parking — including at the Keswick campus — under a policy that is designed to help cover the cost of providing on-campus parking. Reiner said the university would support the wishes of area residents for permit parking, and that he has been working since 2010 with the city and the Wyman Park Community Association, among other groups, to mitigate the impact of JHU's parking policy on surrounding streets.

"Employees are encouraged to use our on-campus parking. However, if legal on-street parking is available, they, like any other person, are entitled to use it," Reiner said in an email interview. "We request that employees use JHU parking (and) we inform them of the limited on-street parking. If parking conditions change, JHU employees will be informed of these changes and further encouraged to use (JHU) parking."

Dill predicted parking will be "even worse," once the Rotunda is redeveloped with 22 apartments facing Elm Avenue and 38th Street and 100,000 square feet of additional retail and restaurants.

But Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, and owner of Atomic Books on Falls Road, said he's worried about losing potential customers, who park on side streets when they can't find a spot on The Avenue (West 36th Street), which is Hampden's main commercial corridor.

"That has the potential to have a strangling effect on businesses," Ray said.

Also concerned was Tina Carroll, owner of a home-based art and restoration business, Monika Workshop, in Hampden.

"Statistically, parking grows, it doesn't shrink," she said.

Carroll also raised a red flag about what she called "privatizing public spaces."

But Dill said, "We're not trying to permit park the entirety of Hampden. Nobody is trying to strangle the parking situation for merchants."

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who attended the meeting, defended residents who want permit parking.

"They need help and I'm going to help them," Clarke said.

Merchants at the meeting agreed to have the merchants association's newly revived parking task force lead ongoing discussions about the permit parking plan. The task force has been inactive since 2007, said Steve Baker, owner of Wholly Terra, who will chair the reformed task force.

Dill said she used to be a member of the parking task force.

"I want back on it," she said.

Dill and some of her neighbors have formed a group called Rotunda Neighbors to push for parking mitigation ahead of the redevelopment project, which is scheduled to break ground next spring.

But Dill said residents on Elm Avenue and 38th Street are also asking mall redeveloper Hekemian & Co. to include one space per apartment unit in a planned garage as part of the rent so that the newcomers won't be tempted to park on the streets.

Hekemian's overall redevelopment plan calls for about 300 apartments, aimed at empty nesters and young professionals, and a new loading dock. The project also includes a five-story building with four stories of apartments and a lower level of additional retail. A six- to seven-deck, above-level public parking garage is also planned, as are several restaurants.

Existing stores inside the mall would be turned outward to face a plaza and the interior of the mall would be closed except for the theaters.

The city's Urban Design & Architectural Review Panel is still studying redevelopment plans.

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