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City commission OKs ambitious master plan


Baltimore's Planning Commission approved a far-reaching master plan last night designed to shape the city's evolution over the next decade.

The master plan - the city's first in 35 years - encapsulates a long list of strategies on matters as diverse as when taverns should close, what to do about vacant houses and how many water taxi stops are needed.

City planners spent more than two years drafting the nearly 200-page document, which builds on an earlier effort that stalled in the late 1990s. For the past four months, they have vetted it at a series of public hearings and incorporated opinions from hundreds of individuals and organizations.

Before the vote, Planning Commission Chairman Peter Auchincloss praised the plan and the hard work that went into it.

"Forty years is a long time to not have a vision for the city," he said. "This document needs to not go into a drawer. It needs to be a business plan for a world-class city."

The plan, which goes to the City Council, where formal adoption is expected in fall, includes 13 goals, 45 objectives and 143 strategies for the coming six years.

Through it, officials attempt to deal with the lingering effects of Baltimore's large population decline, its recent growth spurt and a host of quality-of-life issues.

The plan is divided into four sections, with recommendations for housing, education, recreation and employment.

It can be found online at

City Planning Director Otis Rolley III said the process may have been slow, "but we wanted to make sure we did it right."

"It provides the city of Baltimore with a roadmap of how [taxpayers'] dollars can be invested," Rolley said. "For their libraries, their schools, their parks, their houses and their transportation system. ... It takes a lot of the guesswork out of, 'Where do my tax dollars go?'"

Just because a goal is listed in the plan, it isn't necessarily a done deal. Many of the plan's elements require more specifics and then additional approval from city or state elected officials - such as the goal of keeping city bars open until 4 a.m. instead of 2 a.m.

Other aspects set in motion more intensive planning efforts - such as the goal of establishing citywide landscape and building design ordinances. First, city officials would have to figure out what the limits in those ordinances would be - an exercise almost guaranteed to draw controversy.

Still other parts of the plan appear almost dreamy, given the obstacles to making them real - such as a goal of eliminating homelessness in Baltimore.

"We don't think it's lofty or overly ambitious," Rolley said, adding that other cities, such as Philadelphia, are establishing 10-year strategies to end homelessness.

One of the most ambitious and controversial goals of the plan has already begun - and will continue in earnest after its expected approval this fall. A comprehensive rezoning of the city will have planners evaluating virtually every corner of Baltimore to determine if its long-standing zoning laws match the new realities of city life.

The initial rezoning test-case in Southeast Baltimore, including Fells Point, Little Italy and Harbor East, proved labor-intensive and stressful, with residents and businesses struggling to find common ground.

"We have to be careful and smart," Rolley said, "and make sure we have as much community input as humanly possible."

Planning ahead

Baltimore's new comprehen- sive master plan includes dozens of strategies to guide the city's growth over the next six years:

Implement the Charles Street Trolley line.

Reinstate the "shuttle bug" system along main streets and shopping districts.

Increase retail space downtown by 400,000 square feet, to 1 million square feet.

Prepare for the bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812.

Ensure that at least 300 new housing units per year are made affordable to seniors, the disabled and residents of low- and fixed-income households.

Establish a multi-tiered property tax system to encourage development of vacant property.

Eliminate homelessness citywide.

Ensure that all residents are within 1.5 miles of quality groceries.

Create incubator space around biotechnology areas.

Provide wireless technology zones in public areas.

Eliminate poor building conditions within school facilities.

Ensure access to public library services for all residents.

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