Planners unveil guidelines for use of harbor

Aim is to ease congestion, balance pleasure, industry

97-page maritime master plan

With two other proposals, it frames next 10-20 years

December 04, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Alarmed by the crush of pleasure boats, water taxis, kayaks, freighters and other watercraft plying Baltimore's harbor, city planners have crafted a blueprint for managing the congested waterway from its gritty industrial outer reaches to the tourist-friendly cul-de-sac of the Inner Harbor.

The ambitious plan is intended to get a grip on the harbor's continuing rise as a regional playground for pleasure boaters and tourists while protecting remaining industry. Even those involved in drafting it admit, however, that Baltimore has an imperfect track record of following plans.

The new guidelines - set to go before the Planning Commission today and ultimately to Mayor Martin O'Malley - are part of a larger framework that includes two other recent plans focusing on land-based issues around the harbor, said city environmental planner Beth Strommen.

"They are the navigation tool for the next 10 to 20 years, all three of them," she said. "Any good business has a good business plan, and cities are no exception. If you combine these three documents into a trilogy, you've got a direction."

The 97-page maritime master plan, compiled with input from a variety of interests located along the snaking harbor, aims to strike a tricky balance between recreation and commerce.

It calls for approval of four new marinas, with a total of 665 boat slips, at Port Covington in South Baltimore, Union Wharf in Fells Point, the proposed Ritz-Carlton site off Key Highway and the nascent Canton Cove development on Clinton Street. Nearly 3,200 slips already exist throughout the harbor.

And the plan backs construction of five finger piers on the former AlliedSignal property, renamed Harbor Point after a lengthy cleanup of toxic waste. The site west of Fells Point is being developed jointly by C. William Struever and John Paterakis.

Recreation curbs

But much of the maritime plan seems aimed at checking recreational expansion. That effort has twin goals: to keep existing marinas and similar uses from being overwhelmed and to minimize pressure on deep-water docks and other industrial presence. Recommendations include:

Preventing recreational development such as a marina from gobbling up any more deep water from Canton Crossing south on Clinton Street to Seagirt Marine Terminal.

Rejecting seaplane tour operations, personal watercraft rentals or a proposed new heliport that critics say would worsen traffic in the shipping channel.

Maintaining wide turning basins for large commercial ships and limiting any lengthening of piers toward navigational areas.

Encouraging users of kayaks and small crafts to take advantage of the comparatively empty Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.

Chaotic harbor

A number of ideas relate specifically to the Inner Harbor area from the Rusty Scupper restaurant to the Pier 6 concert pavilion. A one-day study on a Saturday in August 2001 documented chaos in the basin, with boats nearly colliding and paddle boats bobbing outside their "safety area."

The maritime report suggests:

Relocating excursion vessels such as the Bay Lady away from the high-visibility west wall next to Light Street to an unspecified place "outside of major view areas."

Consolidating two competing water taxi companies with 28 stops to one with 14 stops, and relocating taxi stops from the busy Harborplace amphitheater to the end of the Constellation pier.

Banning additional historic vessels, such as the Chesapeake Light Ship, that cannot move under their own power, and considering creation of a single "floating museum" area outside the Inner Harbor where they might be moored together

Exploring a lower speed limit of 4 knots (the current limit is 6 knots), issuing more tickets to boater scofflaws and keeping a tighter leash on paddle boats.

Protecting aesthetics

The plan also urges extra steps to curb pollution and garbage in the greater harbor. And it makes a point that view corridors should be guarded.

"Access to the water should not be limited to those who have access to a boat or who can afford to live in waterfront buildings," the report says. "This public resource should be protected for all."

"I think we did a fairly decent job of analyzing each and every proposal put forth," said Paul Swensen, vice president and general manager of Moran Towing of Maryland, whose tugboats are based in Fells Point.

Swensen was a member of the advisory committee that began meeting two years ago. The report includes a Moran-friendly recommendation that tugboats be considered in the planned redevelopment of the city's Recreation Pier, where Moran is based.

"It's important to keep our presence not only from a commercial standpoint but from a tourist standpoint," Swensen said. "People come to Fells Point to see the tugboats."

Some disagree

Not everyone on the committee likes every recommendation. Bill Flohr, general manager of the Inner Harbor East Marina, disagrees with a provision making amendments off limits for five years to preserve the report's integrity.

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