Baltimore considers parking authority

Combining city efforts on garages and lots is subject of public hearing

June 26, 2000|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Downtown Baltimore's frustrating parking situation could be in for a major improvement under a bill making its way through the City Council.

Tonight, a council subcommittee will hold a public hearing on a proposal to create an independent parking authority that would consolidate the city's efforts into one agency.

"Parking, especially in a city's downtown, is an economic development asset," said Mayor Martin O'Malley. "It's something that you have to have to grow jobs and attract businesses."

The lack of parking downtown and in the city's other entertainment districts has been a longstanding problem. Nearly three years ago, the Downtown Partnership released a report that said the city needed at least 3,600 new spaces downtown, where there are about 24,000 spaces. The report also called for establishing an independent parking authority separate from the Department of Public Works, which administers the city's parking management and enforcement.

Then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke supported many of the report's recommendations, but did not favor setting up an independent agency. O'Malley has made establishing a parking authority a priority during his first year in office.

This year, the city's legislative package in Annapolis included a General Assembly bill granting the city the power to set up an independent parking agency. The bill, which passed with no opposition, takes effect Oct. 1.

City officials decided to move ahead with their plans as quickly as possible, rather than wait until the council's fall session.

"We want to get this thing up and running," said Councilman John L. Cain, chairman of the council's Highways and Franchises Subcommittee.

The city legislation calls for creating a five-member board whose members would be appointed by the mayor and the council president to three-year terms. The authority would coordinate the planning and building of garages and establish one agency responsible for parking throughout the city.

"Some kind of coordinated effort needed to be done to create an atmosphere to develop the additional parking that the city desperately needs," Cain said.

Under the proposal, the parking authority could not issue bonds or condemn property. The Board of Estimates and the City Council would have to approve such measures.

"The city would have to be in agreement with the proposal so we don't have a loose cannon out there saying, `We want to take over a block and build a parking lot and be damned with the opposition,'" Cain said.

Cain also said restricting the authority's powers made it easy for him to support the bill.

"My concern when I first heard about this was, `I hope we don't create another Robert Moses,'" said Cain, invoking the famed New York City parks commissioner. "They weren't accountable to anybody."

The city's parking shortage could worsen if lots at properties that once housed the old News American on Pratt Street and the McCormick & Co. on Light Street are developed.

"The things that have gotten us through this crunch are going to disappear," Cain said.

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