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Mayor's parking agency is OK'd


The City Council gave its unanimous support yesterday to Mayor Martin O'Malley's proposal to establish a Baltimore City Parking Authority that will be charged with coordinating the city's parking efforts.

Last night's meeting was a special session for the council, which adjourned last month after passing the budget. Members returned to consider the administration bill because O'Malley wanted it on the books before the end of summer. The bill goes into effect Oct. 1.

The five-member authority supercedes the all-but-defunct Off-Street Parking Commission and will coordinate and manage the city's now-fragmented approach to parking. Elements of parking management are now in the Department of Public Works.

Public works controls some lots, as does the Department of Housing and Community Development and the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp.

"Passage of this legislation will allow the city to move more aggressively to meet the parking needs today and tomorrow," said Laurie Schwartz, deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development. "We very much appreciate the council's support."

Schwartz said the administration will begin searching for an executive director to oversee the authority.

The O'Malley administration's bill is based in part on "Gateways to Growth," a report on the city's parking problem that the Downtown Partnership published three years ago. Baltimore has 24,000 spaces downtown, the report said, and it needs at least 3,600 more. The report noted that from 1986 to 1996, office space grew at twice the rate of parking space.

Under the legislation, the authority would not be able to condemn properties or issue parking revenue bonds to pay for garage construction. The city has those powers through provisions in the Maryland Constitution and City Charter, and such moves require approval by the Board of Estimates and City Council.

Council President Sheila Dixon said the authority will benefit the entire city.

"Through the authority we'll be able to look at where we need parking lots," she said. "This is not just for downtown."

During yesterday's brief discussion on the bill, Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, a southern Baltimore Democrat, said he wanted to make sure city leaders push for a regional mass transit system that would lessen commuters' dependence on automobiles.

"We are not going to build our way out of parking gridlock," Stukes said. "We need to look toward building comprehensive transportation alternatives."

Councilman Robert W. Curran, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, stressed his desire that the parking authority not limit its efforts to downtown. Neighborhoods and commercial strips beyond the Inner Harbor also need help with parking, Curran said.

The authority will be funded with $9 million now designated for parking functions in public works. Additional expenditures might be needed, officials said.

Supporters say the authority will resolve Baltimore's lack of planning on parking, a situation that has bedeviled development for years. A state juvenile justice center is being built near downtown without adequate parking, for example, and the Maryland Museum of African-American History and Culture was approved without any parking being provided. In Hampden, a fight over a proposed 27-space lot has pitted a convenience store chain against area residents and shopkeepers.

Last week, the Board of Estimates approved a $12 million parking garage for Little Italy that will solve the museum's problems as well as those in the surrounding area. But that deal came about after nearly a decade of discussions. Four downtown parking garages approved two years ago remain on the drawing board.

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