Few residents attend hearing on City Council redistricting

Only a handful of Baltimore residents appeared Wednesday at the first of four City Council hearings to discuss the mayor's redistricting plans, which could change who represents them.

Some residents who testified before the council complained that communities with similar issues would be split, but they applauded other changes that could reunite neighborhoods that had been splintered among various districts.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake proposed the plan at the end of January.

Joan Smith, a Reservoir Hill resident since 2004, said she wants her neighborhood to remain in District 11, which includes neighboring Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon and downtown.

"Historically, architecturally, Reservoir Hill has more of a tie to Bolton Hill," she said.

If the redistricting plans are approved, District 11, that of Councilman William H. Cole IV, would lose Reservoir Hill and gain the South Baltimore neighborhoods of Federal Hill, Riverside and Locust Point, which had been part of Council Vice President Edward L. Reisinger's district. Reisinger's section includes the South Baltimore neighborhoods of Cherry Hill, Westport and Morrell Park.

Reservoir Hill would become part of Councilwoman Belinda Conaway's district, which includes neighborhoods surrounding Druid Hill Park and Mondawmin Mall.

Smith told the council that residents in her community "feel more connected to our neighbors in the south."

"It's very similar architecturally and in additional issues for growth, safety, redevelopment. We're more closely tied to the central part of the city," she said after the hearing. "I've seen a lot of improvement, and we just want to see that continue."

Conaway, who does not support a change that would add Reservoir Hill to her district, responded to Smith, saying that she has gotten numerous phone calls from Reservoir Hill residents who do not want their boundaries redrawn.

"This is not a done deal," said Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who assured those who came to testify that there could be changes in the mayor's plan.

The council will hold three more meetings — March 2, 9 and 16 — at which residents can comment on the redistricting plan.

Before the meeting closed, Councilman Bill Henry said members of the Loch Raven Improvement Association are "adamant that they do not want to be split into two districts."

The Loch Raven neighborhood is now in District 4, but under the mayor's proposal, the northeastern area would be divided between Henry's district and Councilman Robert Curran's District 3.

Bill Marker, a Pigtown resident, spoke in favor of the Rawlings-Blake plan, which would restore the neighborhood to a single district. The community is now split among three.

"It's a little tough to have focus," Marker told the council. "I want to say thank you for doing something that should be done."

Under the mayor's proposal, changes include adding Federal Hill and Locust Point to District 11, which includes downtown and Mount Vernon. Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods, including Violetville, Gwynns Falls and Pigtown (also known as Washington Village), would be combined.

In East Baltimore, Greektown and a large swath of industrial Southeast Baltimore would go into District 1, which would lose Little Italy and part of Butcher's Hill. Butcher's Hill and Highlandtown would be split among districts. Lower Remington would be separated from neighboring Hampden and added to Councilman Carl Stokes' district to the south.

Several amendments to the mayor's plan were introduced Wednesday. Revisions were made to several district boundaries after the release of census figures, which showed a larger population decrease than the initial plan had anticipated.

Under the city charter, the district map must be approved by April 1.


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