In the decade since Kurt L. Schmoke became mayor, the city of Baltimore has prepared master plans to guide development of East Baltimore's "Gold Coast," the downtown business district and the federally designated Empowerment Zone.
It has commissioned experts to generate blueprints for greenways, industrial "brownfields" -- even the Inner Harbor shoreline.
But tomorrow, the Schmoke administration will embark on its most far-reaching planning effort to date -- a "comprehensive master plan" to guide development of the entire city.
Proponents say this effort has the potential to reverse decades of urban decay and to reassert Baltimore's importance as the vital center of a thriving region.
"PlanBaltimore!" is the name of a two-year campaign that begins tomorrow, with a kickoff breakfast at the Baltimore Convention Center starting at 7: 30.
Timed to coincide with Baltimore's bicentennial, the campaign will be the first comprehensive planning effort since 1976 -- and the first since the city's population began its decline.
"Our city's 200th birthday is the perfect time to begin the process of updating Baltimore's comprehensive master plan," Schmoke said. "This process will create opportunities for us to pool our collective energies and ideas and envision Baltimore's next 200 years."
The city has budgeted $500,000 over the next two years to update the plan, a process that will involve all 57 planning department employees as well as outside consultants. "This is the No. 1 priority of the planning department for the next two years," said Director Charles C. Graves III. "It's planning for the new millennium. It will result in the physical blueprint for redeveloping Baltimore over the next 20 years."
He described the comprehensive master plan as a tool that will help the city identify its vision for the future and chart a course to achieve it. When complete, he said, it will contain ideas about how the city must develop physically and economically "to meet the challenges of the future."
City planners will use these ideas to prepare budgets for future spending on capital improvements such as schools, libraries and recreational facilities. The master plan also will be used as a starting point for updating Baltimore's zoning code, which has not been revised since 1979, to identify sites for economic development and to help streamline the building permit review process.
This summer, the city plans to hire a team of consultants to supplement the planning department staff. It also has formed an advisory committee of 100 residents who will oversee the consultants' work.
Graves noted that Baltimore has seen many changes since the last citywide planning effort was launched in the 1970s. He said much of the Inner Harbor had not been redeveloped in the mid-1970s; the Orioles were still playing at Memorial Stadium; and neither the Metro nor the central light rail line had begun operation.
One of the key issues this time, he said, will be determining how the city should evolve because its population has decreased by 200,000 households during the past several decades and is likely to drop even further.
Many cities have launched planning efforts in times of growth, Graves said, but Baltimore will be one of the first cities to launch a comprehensive planning effort that tries to address "undercrowding."
"I think we're really going to be in the forefront, in terms of being creative," he said.
As part of their work, planners are expected to explore ways that the city can take advantage of the state's Smart Growth legislation, cope with the invasion of "big box" retailers, reroute traffic and recycle aging buildings. The city also wants to deliver services more efficiently and determine the best way to use the roughly 50,000 acres it owns in Baltimore County.
Other topics are likely to include: developing new forms of housing, deciding where to extend the subway and light rail lines, and working with its regional neighbors to address subjects such as air quality control.
At a recent meeting of the Mount Royal Improvement Association, Baltimore Development Corp. President M. Jay Brodie said he would like to see more city land set aside for industrial parks that could be used specifically as warehouse and distribution sites.
While the advisory panel and its subcommittees will be instrumental in setting the direction of the planning effort, city planners will encourage as many other residents as possible to participate through newsletters, surveys, questionnaires, town meetings and a Web page on the Internet.
"You may have an idea for developing a new style of housing in Baltimore," said Planning Commission Chairman Stelios Spiliadis. "Perhaps you have seen something in another city that you think would work well in ours, or maybe you know just what is needed to make your neighborhood a better place in which to live. Whatever your interest is, we want your ideas."
The department intends to make an effort to work with public schools to get youths involved, Graves added.
The two consulting groups vying to lead the effort are teams headed by Wallace, Roberts and Todd, of Philadelphia, and STV Inc. of Baltimore.
Graves said the city will select one consulting team by late June. The citizens advisory panel will break into subcommittees and begin working with the consultants in earnest by fall, he said. A final plan is expected by May 1999.
Pub Date: 5/14/97