Redesigning Baltimore: Planners envision new development among mass transit stations

Baltimore planners want to invite development around mass-transit stations where individuals and families can live, shop and commute without having to get behind the wheel of a car — part of a proposal to modernize the city.

In the 350-page, comprehensive zoning overhaul — a once-in-a-generation undertaking that officials are calling TransForm Baltimore — they describe plans to remake old industrial buildings into artisan workshops and lofts, preserve the character of the city's neighborhoods and protect the port as an economic engine for the region.


The City Council, which is reviewing the plan, has scheduled 10 hearings beginning later this month to collect community input before voting on it. The code changes have been in the works since 2008, when Baltimore leaders began rethinking ways to focus redevelopment.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the plan would guide Baltimore's future investment, including transit-oriented development along much of the planned 14-mile Red Line light rail, while incorporating lessons on urban revitalization from the around country.


"Any great city is a city that has high-quality, real transit, getting people from where they live to where they work, learn and play," the mayor said. "With more transit-oriented development, I think it will take Baltimore to the next level in terms of being more vibrant and more of a 24/7 city."

Better public transportation will help Baltimore compete with cities like Washington, Boston and Seattle, Rawlings-Blake said.

The revisions won't bring development, but the mayor says her goal is to make the approval process easier, with simpler, more predictable rules that eliminate some bureaucratic red tape.

"If doesn't make the process more simple, if it doesn't make it more predictable, then it's not done," Rawlings-Blake said. "We will reach that goal."

As developed by the city's Department of Planning, the plan would also complement the city's stormwater management efforts with green space requirements in parking lots, and make it easier for colleges and medical centers to expand.

In all, the plan would make hundreds of changes to the existing code, which was adopted in 1971. The rules would affect every one of Baltimore's quarter-million properties.

The plan has drawn mostly high marks from its already extensive public vetting, but critics want the council to do away with provisions that would force out some corner liquor stores.

Another controversial element of the proposal — a ban on Formstone, Baltimore's faux-stone facade treatment, dubbed "the polyester of brick" by film director John Waters — was dropped from the draft before it was presented to the council this spring.


Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he hasn't taken a position on any of the recommendations. He says his main objective is to protect property rights. As the city tries to streamline the zoning process, Young said, he doesn't want council to relinquish control to city bureaucrats who might not be as responsive to residents' concerns as elected officials would be.

"We're going to have to really deliberately slow this thing down so we can get it right, because the next time it will be done will probably be 40 years from now," Young said. "We're going to work very hard to make sure that this is something that benefits the entire city."

Young said homeowners and people interested in buying property or opening businesses should pay attention to the proposals, because the rules being drafted now will affect how a particular building can be used or whether a certain business is prohibited from opening on a particular block.

"Some people are going to be happy, and some are not going to be happy," he said. "When you do something as complex as this comprehensive rezoning, you can't please everybody."

The hearings are to focus on individual topics and held at locations throughout the city through late November.

Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, who is to oversee the hearings, said the council is not expected to vote on the code until next year. Once a plan is approved, the zoning changes would go to Rawlings-Blake for her signature and became effective six months later.


"It's a work in progress," Reisinger said. "Our objective is to do it right."

A key feature of the plan is its focus on transit-oriented development. The new zoning category encourages a combination of landscaping, offices, shops, restaurants with outdoor seating, apartments, rowhouses and banks along mass-transit stops, as seen in Bethesda and Silver Spring.

The zoning calls for biking and walking paths and commercial spaces with large glass storefronts and parking lots in the rear. It would allow entertainment venues and public plazas.

Density requirements would vary by neighborhood with the new zoning category also recommended for portions of the north-to-south light rail tracks and the Metro.

City planners say transit-oriented design is not necessary for the downtown and not appropriate for neighborhoods where redevelopment is not anticipated.

Councilman William "Pete" Welch, who represents Franklintown, Harlem Park and Washington Village in West Baltimore, said he went to Los Angeles four years ago to study zoning along mass-transit lines.


One aspect of that zoning Welch hopes to bring to Baltimore is transition-oriented development, which allows nonprofits such as churches to run shops and franchise operations such as Dunkin' Donuts in underdeveloped areas.

Most important, he said, is a zoning plan that facilitates job creation.

"That is extremely exciting to me," Welch said. "That is what breathes life into a community and provides additional hope."

Four of the proposed Red Line stops are in Welch's district.

From west to east, the Red Line would connect Woodlawn in Baltimore County to the city with stops planned for Edmondson Village, West Baltimore, downtown, Harbor East, Fells Point, Canton and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

The state could announce additional details as early as this week for the $2.6 billion project, which drew criticism recently from Baltimore's legislative delegation for becoming too costly and failing to live up to early projections for ridership and speed.


One transit-oriented development already is being considered for the city. A preliminary plan developed for Amtrak at Penn Station was unveiled in March.

The station, a hub for MARC commuter trains, is on about 7 acres of prime real estate north of downtown, most of it underused. The Amtrak plan calls for about $500 million in private investment to build new homes and businesses.

The zoning code, as drafted, would help facilitate such a mixed-use design.

Mel Freeman, director of the Citizens Planning & Housing Association Inc., which promotes civic action in neighborhoods, transportation and housing, said smart development along mass-transit lines will help draw newcomers — especially recent college graduates, who demand public transportation — to Baltimore.

"Many, many of our graduating seniors cite transportation as the No. 1 issue why they wouldn't stay in Baltimore," Freeman said. "They want transit, and the Red Line represents the opportunity for Baltimore to be a world-class transit city."

The land use plan would also encourage continued urban modernization around the Inner Harbor. New surface parking lots would be prohibited, and the ones that exist would need to add greenery to help with water runoff and beautify the city, said Thomas J. Stosur, director of the city's planning department.


"In terms of Baltimore becoming a 24-hour pedestrian-friendly place for growth, downtown surface parking lots are the antithesis," Stosur said.

High-density housing, such as micro-apartments, would be encouraged downtown, no height restrictions would be imposed, and developers would not be required to provide parking for residents.

Sex-oriented entertainment, such as strip clubs, would to be restricted to The Block on East Baltimore Street.

Industrial tracts, such as the former General Motors Corp. plant off Broening Highway, would be secluded from residential development. A maritime district is proposed to protect the deep-water and shipping interests of the port.

A new category, called industrial mixed use, would allow the intermingling of artisans such as cabinetmakers and sculptors with lofts and schools, to reflect patterns already forming in neighborhoods such as Station North, according to Laurie Feinberg, head of the city's comprehensive planning program.

"Changing the zoning doesn't make something happen," Feinberg said. "It allows something to happen. Development happening or not happening is market-driven. We're just facilitating."


To speak up

Baltimore residents and business are invited to a series of public hearings on TransForm Baltimore, the city's proposed comprehensive zoning overhaul. The meetings, hosted by City Council's Land Use and Transportation Committee, are organized by topic.

Sept. 24, 5:15 p.m.: An introduction to TransForm Baltimore comprehensive rezoning plan; Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, 1400 Orleans St.

Sept. 28, 10 a.m.: Open space and environmental districts, detached and semidetached residential districts; Morgan State University.


Oct. 3, 5:15 p.m.: Corner liquor stores and taverns; Towanda Community Center, 4100 Towanda Ave.

Oct. 9, 5:15 p.m.: Commercial districts and special-purpose districts, such as transit-oriented areas; University of Maryland, Baltimore Bio Park, 801 W. Baltimore St.

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Oct. 15, 5:15 p.m.: Planned Unit Developments, off-street parking and loading; Polytechnic Institute, 1400 W. Cold Spring Lane.

Oct. 22, 6:30 p.m.: Rowhouse and multifamily residential districts; Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, 420 S. Chester St.

Oct. 28, 5:15 p.m.: Industrial districts; Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove, 1201 Cambria St.

Nov. 6, 5:15 p.m.: Site development; the Johns Hopkins University.


Nov. 13, 5 p.m.: Development reviews, applications and authorizations, nonconforming uses, enforcement and appeals; Council Chambers in City Hall. This meeting will be televised.

Nov. 20, 2 p.m.: Comprehensive plan; Council Chambers in City Hall.

To read more about the plan or to look up proposed zoning for a specific address, go to