PlanBaltimore is first step to futureWhen Mayor Kurt L...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

June 26, 1999

PlanBaltimore is first step to future

When Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the Baltimore City Planning Department released the draft of PlanBaltimore on April 22, we were gratified to get widespread coverage in Baltimore's media.

This coverage was important in our effort to engage citizens in a dialogue about our city's future. That dialogue is under way.

For it to move forward, citizens must have a clear understanding of what PlanBaltimore is and where the process goes from here.

PlanBaltimore is not a block-by-block blueprint of Baltimore's physical future.

It is the first step in creating such a plan: the policies and goals that will shape the more detailed planning to come.

And it proposes a process, the Neighborhood Planning Program, which will pull together residents, nonprofits, businesses, foundations and other stakeholders to develop more detailed physical plans, which will be tailored each area's special conditions.

Some people have wondered why the Planning Department didn't simply produce such a blueprint and present it to citizens. Planners have learned that residents don't want planners to give them precast molds for their neighborhoods.

They want to participate in planning their future.

City residents participated in 12 public meetings that preceded development of the PlanBaltimore draft.

Their hopes and ideas, along with those of city agencies, form the basis of our current draft.

However, that draft is only a starting point, and we are until June 30 in a review process, seeking additional input from everyone with a stake in Baltimore's future.

Our public meetings May 4 and May 18 attracted more than 200 residents, many of whom took the opportunity to express their views to the planning commissioners.

One concern we continue to hear is about how the city will find resources to implement PlanBaltimore, especially since the new mayor may not have participated in or be committed to the planning process or the resulting plan.

While we recognize this concern, we feel strongly that the new mayor will value the many hours Baltimore residents have dedicated to this planning process.

Though he or she will certainly want to revise some of the recommendations and determine the priorities, we believe the plan will be a useful tool for the next administration.

Although the city's fiscal limitations are well documented, we think the plan will help direct our resources more effectively and lay out a path that may attract additional funds from various sources.

The Planning Department continues to solicit ideas, comments and, yes, criticism, from across our community on our draft plan.

Only by broadening our outreach will the plan get as close as possible to what people want to see happen in Baltimore over the next 20 years.

Citizens can write to the city's Planning Department, call our hot line on 410-396-8351, or e-mail us at planbaltimore@yahoo.com.

Stelios Spiliadis, Baltimore

The writer is chair of the Baltimore City Planning Commission. The letter was also signed by eight other members of the commission.

Historic Trust's position on west side belittled

I was disappointed in The Sun's editorial on the proposed redevelopment of downtown Baltimore's west side, "Gems at risk; West-side plan: The city would not be better off if rundown area were left alone" (June 17).

The editorial misrepresents the National Trust for Historic Preservation's position and belittles the plan's impact on the area.

Contrary to what The Sun's headline suggests, the National Trust is not suggesting that the west side be "left alone." We are simply saying it is not necessary to destroy the neighborhood in order to save it.

The 20 architecturally significant buildings that will, by law, be preserved under the plan hardly compensate for the more than 150 buildings that could face the wrecking ball.

Preservation and revitalization are not an either/or proposition: They can and do work together to rebuild communities.

In cities all over America -- Denver, Boston, Cleveland, St. Paul and Baltimore itself -- preservation has played a key role in rehabilitating the historic hearts of urban downtowns.

The west side has much to offer Baltimore; to refer to this bustling community as a "wasteland," as The Sun's editorial did, paints a distorted picture of the area and of the vigorous spirit of the residents, merchants and shoppers who make this a vibrant part of Baltimore's downtown.

We encourage Baltimore to develop a plan that preserves the community's historic buildings and adds in-fill compatible with their character.

We also recommend that the city promote existing tax incentives for rehabilitation that could make the west side a real asset to the city.

The National Trust's list of "Americas 11 Most Endangered Historic Places," which this year includes the west side of downtown Baltimore, has proved to be a successful tool to generate the attention and resources needed to save historic sites.

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