IN OUR POST-ELECTION reflections on reconciliation and the rule of law, we discover a simmering local dispute between similarly well-meaning yet tenacious and valued citizens -- Calvert School and the tenants of 4300 N. Charles St.
If we are to move forward as a nation, President-elect George W. Bush's hard-won election reminds us that democracy often requires consent to leadership and law with which we disagree. Citizenship compels acceptance of the larger processes by which our society is governed and decisions are made.
If we are to move forward as a city, similar principles must apply, especially with regard to difficult governance and development issues.
Calvert School proposes a modest expansion at its current location in Tuscany-Canterbury to add two middle-school grades and athletic fields. Such growth means acquiring an undistinguished 1960s apartment complex and its current owner not renewing the leases of renters who have yet to declare a date to relocate.
In a well-funded propaganda campaign full of dramatic distortions, representatives of 4300 have made a sympathetic and public case for the hardships that would result from their being held to the rule of law as it applies to their leases. They and their counsel have now persuaded the City Council to change the rules in the middle of the game and introduce legislation that would prevent any primary or secondary school, public, private, or religious, from expanding if it would displace 50 or more residential units. Where is the Supreme Court to intercede in this post hoc rewriting of law?
But just as the narrow election of Mr. Bush was a bitter pill for many to swallow, so too is the realization for some tenants at 4300 of the precarious nature of tenancy. The affluent tenants at 4300 have elected not to pay taxes directly as property owners must and have exposed themselves to the risks and impermanence of renting.
While many empathize with the tenants' distress at being held accountable for the contracts they've signed, 4300 residents could have secured more protections for themselves and demonstrated deeper commitment to the city as homeowners. Though Calvert is not the current owner of the property, it has been exceedingly generous in offering assistance to 4300 tenants in their relocation efforts within the city and the region.
Both the aftermath of the election and Calvert's concern for the 4300 tenants stirs further reflection on civility. Yale Professor Stephen Carter has defined civility as "the sum of the many sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of living together." To live and work successfully in Baltimore surely requires generous doses of sacrifice and civility.
City life can be difficult, as evidenced by the steady decline in population, yet its independent schools offer viable educational options to families who remain committed to Baltimore. Nearly half of Calvert's students' and employees' families are taxpaying, city property owners who value Calvert's proximity and century-long contributions to the community.
Should Calvert move out of the city, students' families would follow. Just as the city has gone to considerable expense to retain its corporate citizens and sports franchises, so too must we strive to keep the taxes and talents of the Calvert community in the city.
Contrary to misconception, the racial, ethnic, economic and geographic diversity of the Calvert community is broader and more representative of the city as a whole than either the 4300 North Charles Tenants Association or the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood. Adding students in its middle school would allow Calvert to continue to diversify its student body and relieve some of the intense competition for educational opportunities in the independent schools. Calvert School has had successful collaborations with several city public schools and is truly one of the Baltimore's educational crown jewels, like its neighbor, theJohns Hopkins University.
Again contrary to much shrill misinformation, Calvert School's campus plan is quite sensitive to its surrounding neighborhoods. It will offer more open green space in full compliance with environmental regulations. The "Oak Place Grove" and Stoney Run stream will be preserved and maintained as part of the campus. Several historically significant buildings will be restored and a creative architectural site plan will result in less concentrated traffic flow in the neighborhood.
What many generously refer to as the bucolic 4300 property is currently zoned for high-density housing and is surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings. Were the property sold to a commercial developer, which is not prohibited in the narrowly proposed council legislation, more large-scale apartments or commercial spaces could forever deface the neighborhood.
Opposition to Calvert's low-impact plans overlooks the many positive contributions of Calvert School to city life over the past 100 years, the continued need for educational alternatives to keep taxpaying property owners and young families in the city and the many salutary contributions to the surrounding neighborhoods that Calvert's campus would bring.
Dan Buccino is a Baltimore psychotherapist organizational consultant and Calvert parent.
City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.