Rewrite the city's permit book Outdated rules: Baltimore City needs a rezoning and streamlining of permit regulations.

April 27, 1996

DURING HIS SECOND term, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke used to talk about Baltimore's need to "reinvent the government." This seemed to suggest a comprehensive reappraisal of the way the city was run. Unfortunately, no such overhaul has been conducted.

As Baltimore prepares to observe next year the bicentennial of its incorporation, there is every reason to modernize and streamline the way the city operates. Too many rules are outdated, illogical or unenforceable. Get rid of them. Make operating in the city a simple and unburdened proposition.

The overhaul should start with a comprehensive rezoning of the entire city. It is long overdue, the last rezoning having been done in 1971. Rezoning was a key recommendation of the 1991 blueprint, "The Renaissance Continues: A 20-year strategy for downtown Baltimore." Yet for some unexplained reason this important updating has never commenced.

Building permits needs rethinking, too. The maze of regulations is currently so bewildering a former top enforcement official estimates "as much as 75 percent of the work in the city is done without permits."

The case of Fayette House, the conversion of four rowhouses into a halfway house in the unit block of South Fulton Avenue, illustrates the web of problems. Although the city and state are shelling out close to $1 million on this project, its developers never obtained all the required permits and worked while using expired permits. The reason seems clear: In one case, the city bureaucracy took four months to issue a routine permit; in another, no action was taken on an application.

This kind of slipshod operation tells builders that it is easier just to go ahead and start construction than waste time with the cumbersome and unpredictable permit process. The vagaries of the system are such that some builders choose not to do any business in Baltimore City at all. That should tell the mayor all he needs to know.

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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