Meeting now open to public, BDC says

A sun follow-up


Facing blunt criticism for inviting only select members of a task force to a briefing on the fate of a city-owned property in South Baltimore - and asking those people to keep the information to themselves - Baltimore Development Corp. President M.J. "Jay" Brodie said yesterday that everyone is now welcome to attend.

"We're holding the meeting that we said we were going to hold; it's impolite to cancel once invitations go out," Brodie said. "But if anyone else wants to attend, they can do that."

In yesterday's Sun, members of the Key Highway Task Force and public officials expressed outrage that the BDC had e-mailed 17 people Monday about a "by invitation" meeting next week on the agency's plans for selling the former Fire Department repair shop on Key Highway.

The repair shop sits amid a swath of expensive waterfront real estate along Key Highway that is scheduled for rezoning, a process that hundreds of South Baltimore residents from Federal Hill to Locust Point have watched apprehensively for nearly a year and that dozens of people on the task force have weighed in on.

The BDC e-mail told invitees that to get into Tuesday night's meeting, they would have to RSVP and present picture identification at the door by 5:55 p.m. because the door would be locked at 6 p.m. Once inside, no printed materials would be distributed.

"The meeting is by invitation," the invitation read. "Your assurances of confidentiality will be appreciated."

Baltimore City Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, who represents the South Baltimore neighborhoods that would be affected by the Key Highway rezoning and wasn't invited to the meeting, condemned BDC's closed-door tactics, telling The Sun: "That's like some sort of shadow government when you start with that."

He said yesterday that he was relieved to hear of BDC's change of heart.

"I'm glad they came to their senses," he said. "It should have been that way from the get-go."

News of the closed meeting also disturbed state Sen. George W. Della Jr., whose district spans South Baltimore.

"Oh, the meeting is open now?" he said upon hearing of the reversal. "Do you mean to say that they're going to open up the windows and open up the doors and let the fresh air in? Well, that's a good thing."

Della said he would try to clear his schedule to attend the briefing, which is set for 6 p.m. at BDC's downtown offices, 36 S. Charles St.

In addition to opening the meeting, Brodie said, the agency will send a summary of the proceedings by e-mail to everyone on the agency's "interested party list," which includes about 50 people.

After the meeting, the agency will post the information on its Web site.

"Altogether, that is as transparent a process as anyone has ever done," Brodie said.

Paul Robinson, founder of Friends of Federal Hill and a task force member who received the original invitation, said he was "elated" that anyone will be able to attend the meeting.

"I think they saw the light," he said.

Heather Moore, a Federal Hill South community leader who was upset by the secrecy, said, "I think they did the right thing."

The city is selling the Fire Department repair shop because it is incorporating that garage and another on Dickman Street into a new garage and maintenance facility in East Baltimore. The National Aquarium in Baltimore intends to move a satellite operation into the Dickman Street site.

City officials expect the proceeds from the sale of the Key Highway property to help build the new garage, but the industrial site is all but worthless on the market unless it is rezoned for residential or commercial development.

The city Planning Department created the Key Highway Task Force this year in an attempt to ease tensions surrounding the rezoning of the site and the properties surrounding it, which is subject to City Council approval as an urban renewal plan.

City Council President Sheila Dixon, who met with members of the task force Tuesday night, got an earful about the BDC meeting.

Dixon said she called BDC yesterday to express her concerns about the meeting and about the agency's moving on the repair shop site before the council approved the urban renewal plan.

"The community will be a lot happier and not as suspicious if we're making the process transparent," Dixon said. "They didn't want their planning they'd been doing the last year or so to be just pushed aside because powers that be said this is going to happen.

"I think we're back on track. We're in the loop now and making sure when we have groups that are intricately involved, that they stay involved through the entire process."

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