Residents of East 31st Street stall change to one-way traffic

City ignored its view, says civic association

August 04, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In Charles Village, even parking and traffic can become political.

A dispute that began months ago has developed into a kind of siege in the first block of E. 31st Street, where a handful of residents have kept a vigil to prevent city workers from turning it into a one-way block.

"This is a power struggle over who's going to take over this street," said Louis Rosenstock, 33, a photographer.

City officials and local leaders plan to meet this afternoon to work on a resolution to the dispute.

The Public Works department has been trying to implement a plan approved by a majority vote at a village meeting in June, said deputy director Dave Montgomery.

"It was a communitywide decision" to make certain blocks one-way and to create 32 residential spaces, some angled parking and 45 metered spaces throughout the neighborhood, he said.

Montgomery didn't count on coming up against the leaders in local politics: the board of the Charles Village Civic Association, which voted last month to keep two-way traffic in the first block of E. 31st.

Some members were displeased to see city workers move ahead without the board's formal blessing. Others who live in the Wyman Towers on East 30th Street were unhappy to see their street still slated for eastbound one-way status, which raised safety concerns for some with disabilities.

"We were just getting input" at the June meeting, said John Spurrier, the civic association president. "The city went ahead and started before we gave them a go-ahead."

The issue goes to the heart of the conflict between those who would like to see the quiet university area quicken with more commercial life and those who like the status quo.

One catalyst for the friction is that more businesses are opening in a retail complex in the renovated Homewood Apartments, owned by the Johns Hopkins University. The Cordish Co. has a master lease on the 18,000-square-foot retail enclave, which has attracted new tenants such as Xando, a stylish coffee shop, a hair salon and Ruby Tuesday, a chain restaurant that will open in about six months.

"I'm looking for any little edge I can get," said Tom Brooks, a vice-president at Cordish Co.

"But it wasn't Tom Brooks and the Cordish Co. dictating to the community," he added.

He described the situation as "a bunch of different factions all vying for their parking spaces for themselves, their customers and their clients."

Montgomery said he is puzzled by the work delay on East 31st Street, with city workers scurrying at the sight of the vigil.

"If each block makes its own determination, then what's the purpose of a town meeting?" he said.

At Xando on East 31st Street, manager Randall Hurtt, 33, said he hopes the standoff is resolved soon.

"It's affecting my business. If you want business, there's going to have to be a concession," Hurtt said.

In a meeting today in a Charles Village gift shop, Spurrier plans to propose to city officials and village residents that the block of East 31st remain two-way, with new metered spaces on both sides.

Although Brooks expressed hope that a diplomatic solution would be found, the meetings are beginning to wear on him: "You can meet until you're blue in the face."

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