No compromise in sight

October 14, 2005

If Baltimore City Council members are expecting the two sides in the Mount Vernon height battle to settle their differences, they are sadly mistaken. A compromise on a revised urban renewal plan for the neighborhood is not in the offing. An experienced mediator brought into the debate previously concluded to city planners that the groups were beyond her help. But the council needs to move this process along: It should use the Planning Commission's proposed height limits as its guide in setting new parameters for development in this historic neighborhood.

The Planning Commission proposal doesn't hew to either group's demands in this ongoing debate - and that is its advantage. Simply put, the recommendations preserve the character of historic Mount Vernon Square, maintain a view corridor up Charles Street and retain the stature of the landmark Belvedere Hotel on Chase Street. More specifically, the proposal allows for buildings at 120 feet in a "midtown zone" and at 170 feet in an "uptown zone," which is north of Chase Street, with a potential bonus of 30 feet more in each area. That makes sense.

As we have said in the past, height shouldn't be the driving force in this debate, aesthetics should be. But the two groups - the Charles Street Development Corp. and its members vs. the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association and preservationists - have radically different views on how to retain the integrity of the neighborhood and revitalize this less-than-vibrant community. The prospects - or lack thereof - of a single property owner and his parking lots have dominated the discussion. The rhetoric of each side often has been sharp and uncompromising. But Mount Vernon's future shouldn't rise or fall on the interests of one developer who had years to construct a 20-story building under the present urban renewal plan, which has no height restrictions, and chose not to. That time has now passed.

Mount Vernon boasts stately historic townhouses and is home to a vast array of renters who live in third-floor walkups or high-rise buildings. The two groups battling over future development ideally represent the strengths of the community - neighborhood preservation and activism, enterprising and established businesses. But they can't get past their self-interests to forge a workable agreement. The art of compromise relies on give-and-take. Now it will be up to the City Council to make the compromises neither side would - and help foster a revitalized Mount Vernon.

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