Question Of The Month

Are city height proposals worthy of a fight?

June 25, 2005

Q: Baltimore is considering height limits for new buildings in the Mount Vernon area. Do you think the city needs more tall buildings and more density? Or would that ruin the charm of "Charm City"?

The Mount Vernon neighborhood is the greatest work of art that we Baltimoreans have ever created. After decades in the doldrums, the neighborhood is finally beginning to revive, and that is good news for all of us.

The city's Planning Department has just proposed a new urban renewal ordinance to guide future development in Mount Vernon.

With one exception, the new ordinance is wonderful.

Mount Vernon's two great attributes are historic architecture and a vibrant mix of uses; with one exception, the new rules would protect both features.

But that one exception is a doozy. The ordinance proposes to allow new buildings to be 230 feet tall along Charles Street. That would mean 23-story buildings in the very heart of Mount Vernon.

And this is very odd. No other American city allows skyscrapers in the center of great historic districts.

From Boston to Savannah, Ga., from New York to San Francisco, American cities put tall buildings on the fringes of historic districts, not in their heart, as our Planning Department is proposing.

The new Mount Vernon ordinance includes good design guidelines for new buildings. But planners are wrong to think that design alone will allow huge buildings to blend in with the small buildings of Mount Vernon.

You can dress a hippopotamus like a ballerina, but the result will be Fantasia, not ballet.

No one believes Mount Vernon should have height limits of three stories or five stories. And if you go to Mount Vernon today, you will see something like a dozen apartment houses of considerable size, and most of them fit in pretty well.

But a few buildings are too big, and the new ordinance opens the door to more of them.

We should close that door.

Mount Vernon is too important for us to take risks that no other American city is taking.

Charles Duff

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Midtown Development Corp.

As a property owner and resident of Mount Vernon, I embrace the height and look forward to new construction that adds to the rich architectural beauty of one of Baltimore's best neighborhoods.

I believe that the city's urban renewal plan is an excellent tool to infuse Mount Vernon with the energy and thrust it needs to become not only a showcase of regional and national history but also a stellar example of a modern neighborhood that offers all the amenities of a world-class city.

For me, and for a large number of property owners in Mount Vernon, height is not the issue.

We believe that the integrity of a design and the architectural richness of a structure should take priority over its height.

We understand that the Empire State Building would be out of place in Mount Vernon.

But it is difficult to think of New York without such a magnificent building.

By embracing the height and accepting the proposed urban renewal plan, we may give Baltimore the opportunity to witness a building of imposing appearance and dignity- a building that will make everyone proud, and may even someday become yet another landmark in this architecturally stunning neighborhood.

Embrace the height, don't fight it.

Hector G. Manzano

Baltimore

As The Sun has reported, the city's Planning Department decided to ignore the voices of our community and propose allowing 230-foot buildings on the stretch of Charles Street north of the Washington Monument, a fact that pleases the development community ("Development groups praise new Mount Vernon height limits," June 8). But the majority of Charles Street's business and property owners are opposed to this plan, as are the majority of residents and many of our neighborhood's major institutions.

At 230 feet, a building would be not only taller than the Washington Monument but also higher than the magnificent Belvedere Hotel.

This plan would irreparably harm Mount Vernon. It would lead to blocking the views of the Belvedere from the south, and could change the entire skyline from that of a charming, historic neighborhood to a crass collection of gleaming, cold high-rises.

The community wants and encourages development of the empty parcels on Charles Street. But this could be done with a height limit of 100 feet, a point proved by the outstanding five-story Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse development coming this year to Charles Street.

A 100-foot limit would ensure the survival and revitalization of our treasured historic neighborhood, whose revitalization is happening precisely because of its historic value and charm.

But put enormous towers in the middle of that charm and you will lose Mount Vernon forever.

Jason Curtis

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association.

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