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City Council to pass fire code change unless agencies move on stalled developments, bike lanes

The Baltimore City Council on Wednesday issued city agencies an ultimatum: make “demonstrable progress” on roughly 20 to 25 stalled developments and a handful of bike lanes by Monday, or the council will strip a section from the fire code that the Fire Department has been citing to hold them up.

Following a one-day recess, the council’s judiciary and legislative committee unanimously voted to bring the bill — which would remove certain road width and building access requirements — in front of the full City Council on Monday.

“If we see demonstrable progress on these issues by Monday evening at 5 p.m., we are going to hold this bill on Second Reader,” said Councilman Eric Costello, the committee chairman.

The fire code issue arose last summer when some Potomac Street residents in Canton argued that a bike lane on their street, which removed parking spots, posed a safety risk because it narrowed the road too much. The dispute prompted the city Transportation Department to consider removing the lane until the advocacy group Bikemore filed a lawsuit to stop it.

The bill, sponsored by Councilman Ryan Dorsey, would substitute more flexible guidelines for the Appendix D of the International Fire Code, which requires 20- and 26-foot street clearances for fire access.

City agency representatives told the committee Wednesday that the move would not significantly affect the city’s liability or bond rating.

Fire Chief Niles R. Ford testified against replacing the International Fire Code requirements with the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Guidelines, which he said consists of mostly “principle and vision” and “doesn’t read like a code book.”

Proponents of the bill pointed out in testimony Tuesday that most Baltimore streets in the city do not comply with that part of the code. The city opts not to follow seven other parts of the International Fire Code, including those governing fire hydrant locations and distribution, and fire protection systems, Dorsey noted Tuesday.

Ford, who opposes the bill, citing public safety concerns, has agreed to convene a committee, including Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Dorsey, to find a way to move forward on the bike lane and development projects, Costello said.

“You have committed to make progress to find out what’s going on to help move the needle on those,” Costello said.

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