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Group report seeks rebirth of Midtown


Rehabilitating old houses and reconfiguring traffic patterns are crucial to making Midtown more appealing and livable, according to a report released yesterday by the Midtown Community Benefits District.

At a breakfast attended by city and community leaders at the University of Baltimore Business School, architecture expert Charles Duff unveiled his medium-range "Midtown Community Plan" for the Bolton Hill, Charles North, Madison Park and Mount Vernon neighborhoods.

The plan calls for establishing a community development corporation to raise $40 million to reverse the housing decline, particularly the number of vacant and dilapidated rowhouses; to assist large renovation projects and to acquire vintage rowhouses as they come on the market.

But Duff underlined his sense of urgency about changing traffic patterns, declaring, "The battle might be won and lost" on that issue.

"We found a way for the rest of the city to move around freely without trashing the midtown district," said the Bolton Hill resident.

The illustrated, 24-page booklet was greeted warmly by city officials, though it contains specific traffic ideas that could cause dispute. "It's really focused. They've chosen areas they're concerned about - traffic and housing - and we think it's a very good plan," said Charles C. Graves III, the city's planning director. "It's a rallying point to bring the community together."

Graves said his department would help bring the plan to the planning commission for review and approval.

He called the Midtown plan a result of hard work and many meetings over two years and said the city would study some of its more daring notions, such as eliminating bus traffic on Calvert Street.

The report attempts to elevate perceptions of the neighborhoods many city dwellers steer through at high speeds on their way to and from work downtown or to such cultural events as the symphony or opera: "Boston has Beacon Hill and the Back Bay. Philadelphia has Society Hill ... Baltimore has Midtown," the report notes.

Pointing out that some homes in Midtown were grand in their heyday but are now somewhat shabby, the document spells out strategies for restoring them in the near future.

The plan also proposes that the district:

Adopt a similar residential strategy to that taken in Otterbein, now a flourishing urban enclave.

Close the southbound Jones Falls Expressway ramp onto St. Paul Street to discourage traffic jams going downtown.

Improve street lighting for pedestrians.

Few among the area's 13,000 residents would argue with planting more trees, but whether there is a consensus on changing parking and traffic patterns is not yet clear.

The plan says that 400 more on-street parking places can be created.

Jamie Hunt, a preservation expert who was co-chairman of the Streetscape Committee that helped conduct the study, told the group that streetlights are now too high and cast an unfavorable light. "They make innocent people look like they're up to no good," he said in a subsequent interview. Carriage lamps are more appealing, according to the document.

Appraising the plan's chances for implementation, Hunt said, "I see this plan as clear and doable, and of all I've seen, this is one I would see rolling out first."

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