Determined not to do anything to discourage development in the city, the Baltimore Planning Commission has voted unanimously against a measure that could have required builders to pay fees to neighborhoods hurt by development.
The plan has been proposed by the Southeast Linkage Group, a coalition of southeast Baltimore neighborhoods that have felt the brunt of expensive waterfront developments.
The group wants to establish impact zones in areas where development comprises 2 acres or at least 50,000 square feet. In designated areas, communities could argue the development would harm them. The City Council could then impose fees on the projects.
The fees would be used to contribute to housing for low- and moderate-income families and for community facilities in the affected neighborhoods.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the plan next Wednesday.
The city planning department staff, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, the Baltimore Economic Development Corp., and the Maryland Homebuilders Association oppose the measure.
Alfred W. Barry 3rd, assistant director of planning, said the possible impact fees could discourage development and force builders into the suburbs. He also said the fees would not be equitably distributed throughout the city.
"Our experience has been [that] you have to do everything you can to encourage development," said Planning Commissioner Samuel Hopkins. "The procedures we have now, I think, work pretty well."
Robert Agus, a developer who is building a waterfront project in Canton called North Shore at the Anchorage, said the city already has the power to require developers to provide benefits to the community. For example, waterfront developers must provide a public promenade along the Inner Harbor.
Although the process can be improved, he said, he believes the public already has a great deal of say in developments. After four years of trying to get his project started, Agus said, "I find it inconceivable that anyone can say there was not participation in our project."
Planning Commission members conceded the legislation raises important issues about community involvement and the impact of projects on existing neighborhoods. "Some of the issues that have been brought up should remain on the public agenda and not live or die with this bill," said Kenneth Strong, the commission chairman.
Robert Giloth, representing the southeast coalition, said the communities have spent a year and a half working on the legislation. Although odds seem stacked against its approval, he said it has drawn attention to the need to improve the development process. "The bill is a way to get the dialogue going," he said.