A Johns Hopkins University senior and a city planner have come up with an intriguing idea that would expand the commercial stretch in the 3100 block of St. Paul Street one block north. Such an enlargement would essentially create a new village center for students and nearby Charles Village residents.
This idea has considerable merit. If a palatable detailed plan can be developed, enabling City Council legislation could be introduced within the next few months.
"We are trying to avoid outright rezoning," explains Chris Ryer, a city planner and Charles Village resident, who has been working on the concept with Peter M. Dolkart, a senior from Miami.
Instead of rezoning, they would use the planned unit development route, which would allow more flexibility for a block that is now chiefly residential but is sprinkled with some professional offices. A PUD designation would allow continued residential uses but would also open the block for B-1 and B-2 zoning categories, permitting such operations as delicatessens, groceries and dry cleaners along with restaurants.
The Dolkart-Ryer proposal is still being developed. But if it is worded right, it could be a boon for the area which has long been under-served by commercial establishments. One would think a major university like Hopkins would support a good off-campus computer outlet, copy shop or book store, but none of those currently exist because of the scarce commercial space along St. Paul Street.
Although many area residents support the idea, others fear that commercial activity in the 3200 block of St. Paul Street would increase noise and have other undesirable consequences.
On balance, we think those fears are exaggerated. But as the Dolkart-Ryer team develops its detailed plan, opponents should voice their concerns at community meetings.
Whether a PUD ordinance would truly be a workable one in the 3100 and 3200 blocks of St. Paul Streets ultimately depends on the design standards it contains. If those standards are high enough and prescribe beneficial commercial uses, the village center could be a huge step toward making the Charles Village and Homewood campus areas a more vibrant community.