For the first time since Baltimore's Architectural Review Board was created more than 30 years ago, city officials have agreed to open its monthly meetings to reporters.
Walter Sondheim, chairman of Center City-Inner Harbor Development Inc., the downtown development agency that hires the five-member review board to scrutinize designs for all new buildings downtown, announced the decision at a city Board of Estimates meeting yesterday.
"The issue of the openness of the meetings is no longer a concern," Mr. Sondheim said. "Beginning at our next meeting, the press will be invited."
The decision follows months of discussions between Mr. Sondheim and editors of The Sun, which has tried for years to cover the Architectural Review Board meetings just as it covers meetings of the City Council, Planning Commission, zoning board and other boards that make decisions about development in Baltimore.
Editors stepped up their efforts to gain admittance to the review board meetings last summer, when the two-story visitors center alongside the Constellation was completed near Harborplace and drew widespread criticism because it blocked views of the ship.
The $875,000 visitors center was designed by a member of the board and built on city property with no design scrutiny except for the board's closed-door sessions.
In recent years, the board has been involved in other design issues, including the controversial 28-story addition to the IBM building that will block views of the harbor from other downtown office towers, and the proposed Baltimore Financial Centre, a 34-story office tower whose developer still needs city permission toacquire two lanes of Redwood Street before he can begin construction.
Mr. Sondheim said the agreement to open the meetings came about after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke gave him the go-ahead and he spoke this week with The Sun's managing editor, James I. Houck. He said representatives of the Daily Record also have been involved in the discussions. Mr. Sondheim added that he reserves the right to close the meetings in certain cases, such as when developers are in the early stages of a project and don't want their plans to be disclosed prematurely for competitive reasons. But he said he did not believe that would happen often.
Mayor Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke thanked Mr. Sondheim for his efforts. "This has been a great concern of the board, to balance out all these competing interests and rights," the mayor said.
"After several years of debate and discussion, it's great that the process has been opened up to the public," Mr. Houck said after the meeting. "We're grateful to Mr. Sondheim for his help."
Established in the late 1950s to review projects planned for the 33-acre Charles Center renewal area, the Architectural Review Board now sees plans for every major construction or renovation project in the Charles Center, Inner Harbor, Inner Harbor East, Market Place, Camden Yards and Market Center areas -- more than 500 acres in all.
Members of the board are Phoebe Stanton, an art historian; and architects Mario Schack, George Notter, George Qualls and Coldon Florance. Each is paid $300 plus travel expenses for each meeting attended.