A crowd at the city tillWe should all be grateful to J...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 07, 1999

A crowd at the city till

We should all be grateful to J. Joseph Clarke ("Developer presses for tax breaks," Aug. 1) for exposing the arrogance of developers who demand tax subsidies.

Mr. Clarke's threat to leave a giant scar in the middle of downtown if he doesn't get a tax exemption is shameless political extortion.

The danger of these so-called PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes) is that developers have come to regard them as a matter of right anywhere downtown.

Mr. Clarke's project is a classic mixed commercial development -- without even the pretense of being a convention hotel. If he can't get private financing without a gift from the taxpayers, we should wonder how viable a project it is.

And let us hear no more about the tax revenue it might bring in. These calculations assume that such highly desirable development sites wouldn't provide any tax revenues unless they are developed as subsidized hotels.

What we need to hear is how much additional tax revenue they might provide compared with another use.

The extreme to which developers will go to dip into the public treasury is illustrated by another project, HarborView.

Already the recipient of a PILOT, HarborView is now lobbying for another $20 million gift from the state and city to permit construction on an otherwise undevelopable part of it's land.

Behind the camouflage of completing the Inner Harbor promenade, HarborView is seeking public funds to construct a bulkhead on its shoreline that would allow it to develop the pier area next to the apartment tower.

A city government that can't buy books for its children or protect its citizens against the narcotics scourge has no business subsidizing private development projects.

Now that the developers demands are getting more brazen, city residents will realize their tax dollars are lining private pockets.

Candidates for mayor and city council, take note.

James S. Keat, Baltimore

City's `renewal' plan built on weak foundation

The New York Times' recent front-page article about Baltimore's plans to demolish many of its rowhouses mocks the city leaders misguided policy of attempting to save neighborhoods by destroying them.

The plan to demolish thousands of rowhouses is unconscionable. In most cities, the loss of more than 1,000 buildings would be followed by a plea for federal aid to address such a disaster.

But, apparently, Baltimore officials consider it progress to demolish neighborhoods that could be rehabilitated.

How can the city's so-called leaders rush to tear down historic buildings that define the city's image, heart and soul? It is hard to imagine that anyone, least of all city planners, could believe that acres of vacant land would be an improvement over Baltimore's classic rowhouses.

How can Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III and others be so out of step with proven urban renewal efforts that preserve, rehabilitate and recycle the existing building stock?

Under the influence of urban renewal propaganda that promised new and shining neighborhoods and downtowns, many cities demolished their historic buildings in the 1950s and 1960s. Those cities were left with vast areas of vacant blocks that to this day scar the cityscape.

That form of "renewal" was also responsible for the blocks of public housing that, in many cases, have since been demolished as social failures.

It gave us plazas and pedestrian overpasses, eliminated storefront retail and created spaces devoid of vibrant street life.

These too have often been demolished as city planners have called for rebuilding the sort of retail streets that they had earlier destroyed in the name of urban renewal.

Baltimore's redevelopment programs in the 1970s and early 1980s received national acclaim because they focused on rehabilitating buildings and preserving neighborhoods. The city's leaders had a vision of progress that did not destroy Baltimore.

City officials should be creating incentives for rehabilitation and promoting existing ones, such as federal and state tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic buildings, economic development and affordable housing.

Indeed, Congress is considering legislation that would provide tax credits and mortgage assistance for homeowners, as incentives to move into the sort of neighborhoods that the city is rushing to demolish.

Other cities have reclaimed both their neighborhoods and commercial areas through rehabilitation, but Baltimore's officials appear to be operating in a vacuum. They are embracing the self-destructive urban renewal policies that have decimated America's cities.

Instead, Baltimore should be building on the successes of previous administrations whose creative solutions led to the revival, not demolition, of historic, livable neighborhoods.

Barbara Hoff

Natalie W. Shivers, Los Angeles

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