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City Council to introduce tax-exempt bill for cornices, other structures over sidewalks


City Council members said yesterday that they plan to introduce legislation that would exempt cornices and certain other property attachments from a recently resurrected municipal levy that has Fells Point property owners angry.

Last month, shop owners in the city's oldest neighborhood began receiving bills for building attachments that hang over sidewalks.

Under the City Charter, sidewalks are public rights of way and the city has governance over anything that hovers over them, including signs, phones, awnings, lights and cellar doors.

The property owners in the waterfront community received bills for up to $750 for "minor privilege permits." The fees were established in a 1935 municipal ordinance.

Although 6,100 businesses in the city pay the permit fee annually, bringing in $1 million in revenues, the city stopped making inspections about two decades ago but recently began doing so.

The Department of Public Works recently resurrected the permit inspections, alarming Fells Point property owners.

They complained because many had obtained the necessary permits and inspections when they purchased their properties and were unaware of the minor privilege law. The city threatened to remove the attachments if the bills were not paid.

Southeast Baltimore Councilman John L. Cain said yesterday that he is researching legislation that would exempt any building attachments that were on properties before the 1935 law.

"It's just about every property owner in Fells Point," said Cain, who represents the 1st District, where the neighborhood is located. "We need to be careful we do not start a stampede out of this city by people who have not had to pay this fee."

Marcia Collins, a Public Works Department council liaison, told the council's Highways and Franchises Subcommittee reviewing the matter yesterday that department Director George G. Balog was willing to sit and discuss any legislation the council considers.

Responsibility for the permits was transferred from the housing department to public works two years ago. The department is simply doing its job, Collins said.

"He is someone who takes his requirements under the charter seriously," Collins said of Balog. "We do stand ready to talk about these issues and do what we can."

Patrick Russell, owner of Kooper's Tavern at 1702 Thames St., told the subcommittee that he recently received a bill for $350, but city inspectors never told him of the requirement when he purchased the building 18 months ago.

"I don't see how my cornice could be in the right of way of walking down the street," Russell said.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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