Open Meetings Victory

October 21, 1990

Walter Sondheim, chairman of Center City-Inner Harbor Development Inc., deserves plaudits for opening the monthly meetings of the Architectural Review Board to reporters.

This is a decision from which all Baltimore residents will benefit. The five-member panel reviews every major construction or renovation project in a 500-acre area that covers Charles Center, Inner Harbor, Inner Harbor East, Market Place, Camden Yards and Market Center. Every change that is likely to affect the downtown skyline or change the city's signature comes under its scrutiny.

When the board was created three decades ago, no one could foresee the scope of Baltimore's urban renaissance -- or the sweeping authority of the board. Yet what started as an advisory body of somewhat tenuous legal status has evolved into a review panel whose actions have become part of the required planning process. Despite legalistic hair-splitting, this board is a public body whose deliberations should be conducted openly.

Yet the quasi-governmental Center City-Inner Harbor agency for years argued against opening these meetings to the public. As a result, design decisions were taken behind closed doors, creating controversy and divisiveness in the community. A prime example was the hideous two-story visitors center alongside the U.S.F. Constellation, which was permitted to be constructed even though it blocks views of this historic ship and symbol of the harbor. There are plenty of other examples.

Controversies are sure to crop up in the future. But it is to Mr. Sondheim's credit that he has opened the review board meetings to reporters. This is a decision that can only benefit Baltimore taxpayers and all citizens of this region.

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