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Cars parked along 38th St. as a runner passes through on Elm Ave.
Cars parked along 38th St. as a runner passes through on Elm Ave. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Visitors to popular Hampden restaurants, bars and shops this spring would find new parking limits on some local streets under a plan approved Monday by a divided Baltimore City Council.

The council voted 9-3 to create new restrictions around the Rotunda shopping center — which is undergoing major renovations to add nearly 400 apartments, a grocery store, restaurants and a new movie theater — to ensure neighbors won't be crowded out of street parking.

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The parking plan was met with strong opposition from retailers in the popular commercial district along 36th Street, known as The Avenue. Many said the restrictions will shift parking headaches, rather than solve them, and tell visitors that they're not welcome in the neighborhood.

But to longtime Hampden residents Jon Sampson and Lori Rene, the new restrictions are only fair to those who struggle to find parking near their homes. After the council vote, they embraced in celebration.

"If you want to go out and get coffee and a bagel, and you're gone for half an hour, you're done for the day," said Sampson, who lives in the 700 block of W. 37th St. "This is the best thing for everybody. … If we sit down and talk about this, we can end this bickering and resentment, and everyone work for the betterment of Hampden."

Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, said the city needs a comprehensive parking solution. He said the restrictions were pushed by a "small minority" of neighbors, and that the controversy has wrongly been framed as a debate between retailers and residents.

"This flies in the face of the will of the community," Ray said.

The bill would limit visitor parking in parts of north Hampden, including on stretches of Elm and Union avenues, 37th and 38th streets and Pleasant Place, to two hours. The restrictions would be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The legislation now goes to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who is expected to sign it. The restrictions would take effect 30 days after she signs the bill, but officials say it will likely take two months to issue residential permits and post new parking signs.

Voting in favor of the restrictions were Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Vice President Edward Reisinger, Warren Branch, Robert Curran, Bill Henry, Sharon Green Middleton, Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, William "Pete" Welch and Mary Pat Clarke, who sponsored the legislation.

Councilmen Nick Mosby, Eric Costello and James B. Kraft voted against the bill.

Three others — Helen Holton, Brandon M. Scott and Carl Stokes — abstained.

Mosby, who represents part of the neighborhood, said the restrictions take the "wrong approach" to a communitywide problem.

"An overwhelming amount of my constituents are against it," Mosby said. "All it does is exacerbates parking problems."

Mosby said the residential parking zone would cause problems for residents who want to have guests over for birthday parties or to watch a Ravens game. Residents who live in the permit area will have to pay $20 each year for a parking decal and another $20 each for up two guest passes.

He said the Parking Authority needs to study parking challenges and recommend communitywide solutions.

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Clarke, who represents the rest of the neighborhood, said she intends to meet with a small group of community members and merchants in the coming weeks to discuss whether the new restrictions need tweaking. She said she also wants to help Hampden merchants develop a valet parking program and explore construction of a public garage.

"It's been a very difficult process," Clarke said.

She introduced the bill in June, participated in community meetings and helped organized block captains, who went out door to door to gather signatures supporting and opposing the proposed restrictions. Clarke said she evaluated the response and adjusted the proposed permit zone based on the desires of majorities of residents on the streets affected.

Clarke said the push for the parking restrictions began with the Rotunda construction, not the popularity of the businesses on The Avenue. Residents in the northern part of the neighborhood say they have also been squeezed by workers from the Johns Hopkins complex on Keswick Road.

Rene, who lives in the 3800 block of Elm Ave., said residents worked long and hard to help develop the legislation.

"We've been in this from the beginning, all the neighborhood meetings. We did petitions. We're all very happy," Rene said.

William Bauer, vice president of the Hampden Community Council and a member of the merchants association, said the legislation was rushed. He said the neighborhood would have been better off if stakeholders had taken more time to find a solution.

Bauer said those who are opposed might reach out to the mayor to urge her to reject the restrictions. He said the stakes for the neighborhood are high, and some are worried that if visitors are turned off by parking troubles they might look elsewhere.

"Hampden is the jewel of Baltimore City's non-waterfront," Bauer said. "There's no more thriving neighborhood to live, to work, to play than Hampden, and we're going to appeal to her."

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