Zoning toward a greener Baltimore
With the city back from the brink of a green fiscal meltdown, its planners are quietly trying to revolutionize how Baltimore grows.
In the first rewrite of the city's zoning code since 1971, planners hope to "transform Baltimore" from a car-centric concrete desert to an oasis of walkability, with shops, eateries and even some types of industry mixed in with housing.
Laurie Feinberg, chief of comprehensive planning, says the new code aims "to make our neighborhoods feel like places you want to walk to" without having to trek across blazing-hot parking lots. The city's in the final week of holding public meetings on the new code - so this is almost your last chance to learn about it and weigh in.
My colleague Julie Scharper has previously reported in The Baltimore Sun how how the new code would make it easier to have community gardens in the city. But the changes go beyond just greening the urban landscape, Feinberg says, to broader issues of sustainability and of "smart growth."
I contacted Feinberg last week to find out how the new code would handle some hot-button "green" issues that have been controversial in the past year - residential wind turbines, solar collectors and wood-chip driveways or parking pads. She preferred to give me the big picture, but answered the thorny questions as well.
First, the big picture: Besides recognizing community gardens and urban farming as activities gaining currency in Baltimore and other cities, the new zoning code proposes to create new industrial areas, new transit-oriented development districts and new development rules for college campuses and hospitals. Living near or even over your workspace will be encouraged in some areas. Vehicle parking will be de-emphasized, bicycle parking beefed up.
The overarching goal is to make Baltimore more walkable and sustainable, with greater "social equity" for its residents, improved prosperity and a cleaner urban environment.
As for the hot-button issues, the new code aims to make it easier to put a wind turbine in your yard or on your roof, while specifying how high it can be, So even though urban skylines are not conducive to wind turbines, those who really want to catch the breezes can do so now, within limits. Likewise for solar panels, which under the new code would be treated much like rooftop decks.
No such luck for Maxine Taylor, the Butcher's Hill artist whose quixotic bid to keep her wood-chip parking pad I reported earlier this year. The new code still says vehicles must be parked on a dustless surface, but allows how porous or permeable pavers can be used in tire-width strips instead of asphalt or concrete slabs.
But wood chips are still verboten, Feinberg says. Never mind they're permitted and even encouraged in other places, the planner says they're out in Baltimore because they can be washed into storm drains by rainfall, thus adding to the Baltimore harbor's nutrient pollution.
The city has had three public meetings on the new code and plans two more before the month is out. The next one is Tuesday, June 22, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Morgan State University's University Center, Student Center Room 212. The final one is June 29, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and the city planning department, 417 E. Fayette St. 8th floor.
To learn more about the code, and to submit comments online, go here.
As a bonus, you can hear Feinberg explaining the zoning code on WYPR's Mid-Day talk show with Dan Rodricks. The podcast, which you can listen to here, also features a discussion with the city's "food czar" Holly Freishtat.
(Photos of Real Food Farm, by Baltimore Sun's Barbara Haddock Taylor; of green & solar roofs on housing in Curtis Bay, and of Maxine Taylor in her wood-chip parking area, by Baltimore Sun's Amy Davis)