The Baltimore City Council will review an inspection program that has Fells Point business owners angry over receiving fines for cornices, lights, signs and cellar doors on their buildings.
Although Baltimore's minor privilege permit has existed since 1935, the city stopped conducting inspections for the law more than two decades ago. The city's Department of Public Works recently resurrected the inspections, fining businesses up to $750 for violating the law.
Under the City Charter, a sidewalk is considered a public right of way, giving the city the right to govern anything that encroaches upon it.
Fells Point property owners last week complained that the law is unfair to small businesses that have opened since the inspections were halted because the city failed to inform them of the law.
City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., a 1st District Democrat, introduced a bill two years ago to periodically examine the permit process for fiscal and legal soundness. The chairman of the council's budget committee, who represents Fells Point, believes it might be time to repeal the minor privilege measure.
"I think it's wrong," said D'Adamo, who owns a Highlandtown variety store. "There are probably 20,000 laws that the city can enforce, and I think it's the wrong signal to send business owners who are struggling."
City officials say the permit brings in $1 million in revenue for the city, which next year faces a $25 million budget deficit.
About 6,100 businesses throughout Baltimore pay the annual permit fee. Owners of newspaper boxes throughout the city are charged $15 per year, bringing in $18,930 a year for the 1,262 boxes.
City Public Works Director George G. Balog said Fells Point businesses should be forced to comply with the law that other businesses are meeting.
"They're enjoying the public right of way that belongs to everybody, and some people have enjoyed this without paying for it," Balog said of the law. "We're mandated to do it, and I have to comply with the law."
The council's Highways and Franchises Subcommittee will explore the matter at 5 p.m. tomorrow in the City Hall council chambers.
One Fells Point bar owner planning to attend is Patrick Russell.
Russell, who bought Kooper's Tavern at 1702 Thames St. two years ago, was fined $350 for a basement door, cornice, sign and three light fixtures.
Russell does not protest paying for an annual privilege permit, he said, but opposes being fined.
Pub Date: 2/02/99