Baltimore or Anytown, U.S.A. Streamlining: In combining two architecture panels, Mayor Schmoke must show foresight and sensitivity.

May 29, 1998

TWO IMPORTANT volunteer groups accompanied the 1970s renewal of downtown Baltimore. The Architectural Review Board was charged with scrutinizing plans for the Inner Harbor area, while the Design Advisory Panel was to give counsel on changes in other key development corridors. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke now wants to merge them.

"It makes sense to streamline these two groups," the mayor said of the merger, which he hopes to implement by July 1.

Over the years, the functions of the two panels -- overseen, respectively, by the Baltimore Development Corp. and the housing department -- have become so overlapping that combining them under the aegis of the planning department makes sense. But as those agencies hammer out the details of the realignment, Mr. Schmoke ought to insist on changes that would make the new advisory group even more useful. Chief among them is reassuring the public that deliberations will be open.

Meetings of the two panels were held behind closed doors until the Schmoke administration made them public. Controversial development and design issues should be discussed publicly -- and with input from citizens of Baltimore. At present, no procedure allows individuals and organizations to express their views on plans under consideration.

The viability of an architectural advisory group depends not only on its composition but on the willingness of the administration to heed its recommendations. During the transition, this will require foresight and sensitivity.

The mayor should make sure that in combining the panels and not reappointing some members, professional expertise and familiarity with the peculiarities of Baltimore are not lost. As the city keeps remaking itself, it must not destroy its fabric. NTC Otherwise, it will become a nondescript Anytown, U.S.A.

Pub Date: 5/29/98

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