Fells Point frets over land-swap idea BGE subsidiary wants control of city-owned site now used for parking lot

August 13, 1996|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Fells Point residents, already frustrated by parking problems in their congested neighborhood, are upset about a proposal to give a development company ownership of a city-owned parcel that is used for parking.

The Constellation Real Estate Group, a subsidiary of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., wants to convey Chase's Wharf -- an 1840s-era warehouse also known as the Sugar House -- to the city for restoration and receive in exchange a parcel on the east side of Caroline Street, between Thames and Lancaster streets.

The parcel was combined with two small pieces of property that Constellation owns to create a parking lot that the development company has been managing since 1991. It is one of three off-street parking sites in Fells Point.

"If Constellation gets ownership of the parcel, we will lose what little leverage we now have as taxpayers to influence how the lot is run," said Robert C. Keith, chairman of the parking committee of the Fells Point Homeowners Association. "As soon as this becomes a private lot, Constellation will be able to provide parking as they wish, and their record doesn't indicate that they would be sensitive to the community's needs."

Although the proposal has been on the table for a year, residents are rallying now because parking problems in the area recently intensified.

Constellation manages all three of the off-street parking facilities in Fells Point. The second lot is owned by the city and abuts the parcel Constellation hopes to acquire; the third, owned by Constellation, is on the waterfront, south of Thames Street. Each lot has a capacity of 200 vehicles, but many of those spaces regularly go unused -- which bothers Keith.

The lot south of Thames Street is occupied by tenants of Brown's Wharf, an office complex managed by Constellation, and the remaining two parking lots east of Caroline Street -- the sites owned in whole or part by the city -- are leased during the week by Johns Hopkins Hospital.

For 11 months, Hopkins has used the lots as satellite parking facilities. The arrangement, which is attracting an increasing number of Hopkins employees, became a source of tension between residents and the development company this summer because of the influx of tourists to the area. Visitors often are unable to park in the lots, exacerbating parking problems in Fells Point.

Keith wrote to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in June, asking that the community have input in the management of the city-owned parking sites. "It's great that they have a user for the lots," Keith said, referring to Hopkins, "but the community's needs should have been considered first."

Constellation Vice President Kent Johnson said his company allows "other people to park" in the Hopkins lots whenever space is available. However, he added, only one of the lots is open weekdays, unless Hopkins needs to use the second site.

"We don't have enough demand to warrant opening the lot Monday through Friday during the day," Johnson said.

"The spaces remain empty because many Hopkins Hospital employees park on the street rather than pay for a space in the lot," said Cathy Crymes, who owns Grrreat Bears and Childhood Delights, a toy store in the 1600 block of Thames St. "As a result, many street spaces are tied up all day and my customers cannot find a place to park."

Johnson said, "We can't make anyone park in our lots. It's basic human nature for people to try to find a free parking space rather than pay a few dollars to park in a lot. All we can do is provide safe, well-lighted and clean lots at a reasonable rate."

The company charges $2 to park in the lots all day, and $3 to park between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. After 7 p.m. and on weekends, the rate is $5. A monthly pass, now $32, will increase to $34 on Sept. 1. Daily rates will not change.

"We had to increase our monthly parking rate because the city raised the parking tax," Johnson said. City Council members voted in June to increase the city tax on parking lots and garages by an average of 8 percent.

Adding to the parking problem, residents say, is the city's failure to strictly enforce a two-hour parking limit.

"There's no question that the residential parking program is not consistently enforced," said Tricia Shellhorn, who has lived in Fells Point five years. "If traffic enforcement were down here more frequently, people would realize they can't park on residential streets for an extended period of time."

A task force on parking, consisting of residents and business owners, has been formed to develop solutions to the Fells Point parking problems. The task force has asked the city Planning Commission for help in designing a comprehensive parking program.

Meanwhile, Constellation is continuing its negotiations with the city. City officials said they do not know whether the land-swap proposal will be approved.

"We haven't finalized the terms of the transaction," said Walter J. Horton, a city development administrator. "It's still on the table."

Pub Date: 8/13/96

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