Regrets only

December 06, 2005

What a difference a day makes - and some public grousing. An invitation-only meeting on development guidelines for a prime piece of waterfront property in South Baltimore that sparked criticism from the uninvited is now a "come one, come all" event. Openness is always in the public's interest and especially on matters involving a development site that has generated such intense community interest and debate.

But let's put the Baltimore Development Corp.'s meeting, planned for tonight, in perspective. The BDC didn't ban the public; it decided to present its findings to 17 neighborhood members of a task force - a majority of the group - that has been wrestling with the future of the Key Highway corridor for a year.

The Fire Department garage site there is perhaps the last prime waterfront property not yet claimed. What gets built on that parcel matters greatly to people in Federal Hill and South Baltimore for obvious reasons - views and access to the waterfront. Last fall, the communities got a jolt when the city-convened task force proposed rezoning the site to allow 290-foot towers. The outcry sent planners and task force members back to the table.

Meanwhile, the BDC was preparing guidelines to control development of the Key Highway site and limit building heights to 150 feet. As is the BDC's custom, it would seek a community review of the guidelines. But rather than present its proposal at five different community association meetings, BDC staff decided to bring together the 17 residents who have been working on behalf of five neighborhood groups. It excluded seven task force members who were property owner-developers.

If the BDC erred, it was in not anticipating the umbrage an invitation-only presentation might generate. Neighborhood residents have been very vocal about this project over the past year, and for good reasons - the waterfront is a prime community asset that should be accessible to the public and aesthetically complimentary to the harborscape.

This newspaper has criticized the BDC in the past for its closed-door practices. But the fuss about its invitation-only presentation amounts to this: You can invite some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you shouldn't invite some of the people when everyone else is going to know about it.

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