Sitting in the back row of a crowded, contentious meeting Thursday, neighbors Misty Kercz and Sarah Diehl had opposite opinions of a city councilwoman's plans for residential permit parking around the Rotunda mall.
Misty Kercz said she would like to see how redevelopment of the Rotunda impacts the area's parking problem, before going so far as to create a new Baltimore City Residential Permit Parking area, as proposed by City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.
"I'm not opposed to it. I would just like to see what happens first," said Kercz, a stay-at-home mom. She said she hasn't had to park more than two blocks from her home in the 800 block of Union Avenue.
But Sarah Diehl, listening in, leaned over and said, "I'm her neighbor and I'd like to see the residential permit parking in place. I think parking is already problematic," Diehl said. She said she has parked as far as three or four blocks away from her house in the same block.
Diehl, 37, and Kercz, 42, were typical of the divide in the residential and business community over Clarke's proposal for residential permit parking. Clarke's plan, as stated in a bill that she introduced earlier this month, would require most residents in an area bounded by Roland, Chestnut and Elm avenues and 37th and 38th streets to either purchase permits or visitor passes from the city's Parking Authority.
Permit parking would be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and cars without permit stickers or passes would only be allowed to park there for up to one hour a day.
"I'm trying to protect the people around the Rotunda," Clarke said at the meeting. "There's going to be (parking) spillover."
Residents could buy up to four permits and up to two passes per vehicle, at a cost of $20 apiece under the legislation, which must go before the city Planning Commission. The senior citizen apartment buildings at 3838 and 3939 Roland Avenue would receive 50 permits for free, Clarke said.
The legislation has been hotly debated. Merchants say it would push motorists to park closer to the business community, creating problems for customers on The Avenue.
But people like Doug George, who lives in the 3900 block of Roland Avenue, say there is a serious parking problem near the mall.
George, who lives across the street from a cemetery, said he often can't find a place to park.
"I know it's not the people in the cemetery," he said.
Many residents at the meeting, which was called by Clarke and held in the auditorium of Keswick Multi-Care Center, said the 1-hour limit for people without a permit or a visitor pass is unrealistic, because it would hamper residents who are having a party or having contractors working on their houses for any substantial length of time, for example.
Arthur Ruby, property manager for St. Mary's Roland View Towers, Inc., which manages the senior apartment buildings, said he is concerned that women having their hair done in the beauty salons in the two buildings could be ticketed if they stay for more than an hour.
People on the border of the proposed permit parking area also complained at the meeting.
"We're right on the edge," said the Rev. Bonnie McCubbin, pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 3800 Roland Ave. She said the proposed parking area includes the other side of the street, but not the church's side.
McCubbin worried what would happen when the church has well-attended services on holidays, or well-attended meetings or flea markets.
"That's going to create overflow on our side," McCubbin said.
Clarke said the legislation is not cast in stone and can be changed.
"That's why we're having this meeting," she said.
Clarke took several straw polls that suggested strong differences of opinion in the audience of about 75 people, although the strongest support appeared to be for changing the 1-hour limit to 2 hours a day for vehicles without permits or visitor passes.
"The problem is, it's not a cut and dried case," said George Peters Jr.
Another problem, many residents and merchants complain, is that employees and construction crews of the Rotunda park in the area, as do employees of Johns Hopkins at Keswick, the former Zurich Insurance Co. complex that Johns Hopkins University owns on Keswick Road, around the corner from the Rotunda.
The mall is being redeveloped by New Jersey-based Hekemian & Co., which did not need city zoning variances.
Residents like Genny Dill, who lives on Elm across from the Rotunda, have expressed concern that people who will live in nearly 400 planned apartments at the Rotunda once it is redeveloped will park on her street, even though parking spaces would come with the apartments.
Dill, who has led the push for residential permit parking, did not attend the meeting. She was out of town, Clarke said.
Rotunda residents would not be eligible for residential parking permits or visitor passes under Clarke's proposal.
Libby Francis, who lives and works in Hampden as owner of The Modest Florist, said the city should be more proactive in the future in addressing potential parking problems in urban "infill" areas such as the Rotunda that are being redeveloped, especially in a city that she said lacks adequate public transit.
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"I would like for this to be a lesson learned," Francis said. "If you're doing infill, parking has got to keep up."