Letters To The Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

June 16, 2005

Height rules will help renew Mount Vernon

It's easy to focus on height instead of issues of architecture, urban design, context and scale, but Baltimore deserves better than that.

For instance, architects and developers of the Marriott Waterfront Hotel had an awesome design that could have added to Baltimore's skyline. But it was sacrificed to the height gods. Let's not make the same mistake in Mount Vernon.

The Sun's article "Development groups praise new Mount Vernon height limits" (June 8) and editorial "Going to extremes" (June 9) imply that height limits are being raised to accommodate the developers.

In reality, there are no height limits today.

The plan merely allows the property owners of nonhistoric properties to petition for a higher height ceiling on a case-by-case basis.

Such a request would be approved only if the plan featured extraordinary design and architecture measures, and it would have to be approved by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) and the Planning Commission.

Let's look at what the plan actually does:

Every new building would undergo an intensive design review structure guided by predetermined CHAP-approved guidelines. There would be no more guessing about what the commission might want to see.

No "contributing historic building" could be demolished simply to build another building. If one is demolished for another reason, its replacement cannot exceed the former building's height and mass.

Height limits would be imposed - ranging from 100 to 150 feet, with a bonus of 20 to 80 feet granted for extraordinary reasons. But these limits apply only to the few lots containing noncontributing buildings in Mount Vernon, and these are mostly parking lots and gas stations.

The net result is not a "give-away" to development interests; it is a stimulus to the creation of a vital, dense and diverse architectural gem of a neighborhood.

Otis Rolley III

Baltimore

The writer is the director of Baltimore's Department of Planning.

New rules menace historic charms

The recently released draft of the Mount Vernon Urban Renewal Plan has disturbing implications for the future of Mount Vernon ("Development groups praise new Mount Vernon height limits," June 8).

Mount Vernon is the most significant historic district in Baltimore. Many would argue that it is the most significant in Maryland.

Certainly its centerpiece, the Washington Monument, the first such monument to George Washington, is a national treasure. The neighborhood, the backdrop for the monument, is an essential part of that treasure.

Every vibrant and valuable historic community in this country has strong height restrictions. One need only look to Frederick to see an excellent example.

To protect the clustered spires of the historic district, that city enforces strict building height standards.

There is no reason why Mount Vernon, which has more resources and attributes than any other historic neighborhood I have ever seen, cannot thrive under similar standards.

One must remember that the height of the Washington Monument is only 178 feet.

Allowing 230-foot buildings in the middle of this neighborhood could destroy any chance of sustained revitalization.

Obstructing views of the monument with taller speculative office and residential towers is tantamount to killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

W. Peter Pearre

Baltimore

The writer is a member of the American Institute of Architects.

Balance architecture with need for profit

As a 31-year resident of Mount Vernon, I read with dismay of the decision by the Baltimore Planning Department to propose height levels far in excess of those in its earlier proposal ("Development groups praise new Mount Vernon height limits," June 8).

No one wants to see Mount Vernon revitalized more than those of us who have stayed in the area, maintained our property and contributed to the cultural institutions that make Mount Vernon such a unique, quality living environment.

And I long ago accepted that there would be buildings in my neighborhood much higher than my four-story townhouse.

But I had hoped these buildings would be reasonable and balance the architecture of the neighborhood with the ability for developers to make a profit.

Curt Decker

Baltimore

Downing St. memo is strong evidence

Despite Michael Kinsley's contention that liberals are blowing the Downing Street memo out of proportion, many have wondered why more hasn't been made of the discovery ("Fuss over `Downing Street memo' proves left is alive, but little else," Opinion * Commentary, June 12).

One likely reason could be that newspapers, including Mr. Kinsley's Los Angeles Times, get tired of the constant accusations of "liberal bias" and of "hating America."

It may be true that this memo hasn't quite provided the smoking gun that definitively proves President Bush was determined to go to war with Iraq, 9/11 or no 9/11.

But at least it offers more tangible evidence for that hypothesis than anything that's been offered to justify going to war.

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