Dixon to push dozens of bills

Proposed legislation includes plans to fund developments, school

September 17, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

From a proposal to regulate valet parking to a series of bills that will provide funding for the city's massive east-side development project, Mayor Sheila Dixon - fresh off winning last week's primary election - will introduce nearly three dozen bills in the City Council today.

Among the most significant is a proposal to borrow $85 million to begin the second phase of a biotechnology park development adjacent to Johns Hopkins Hospital - money that will be used to purchase and demolish nearly 1,000 properties over 57 acres and to build a new school.

Weeks before the election, Dixon announced that the city would spend $250 million to build seven to 10 new schools in the next decade with financing methods that have traditionally been used for large-scale development. A proposed K-8 charter school tied to the sprawling East Baltimore development appears to be the first on the administration's list.

"The mayor is committed to building up to 10 new schools," said Deputy Mayor Andrew B. Frank, who added that the administration believes the schools will strengthen the surrounding neighborhoods.

The four-part package of legislation will create a tax-increment financing district that will be used to pay back the loan. In tax-increment financing, cities borrow money to pay for construction and then pay the loan back with the increased value the completed project adds to the tax base. A large hotel built on a formerly vacant lot, for instance, increases that property's value for tax purposes - bringing more money into government coffers.

Jack Shannon, president and chief executive officer of East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit organization created by the city to manage the project, said the money will be used to buy and demolish homes, as well as to relocate families whose property is in the footprint of the project. About 300 families will be affected in the second phase, Shannon said.

"As a result, we can now begin moving forward ... with the planning for the acquisition of the properties required for the second phase of development and the relocation of families to new housing," Shannon said.

The legislation, which is expected to be approved by the City Council, will be referred to a committee that oversees taxation and finance. Many of the bills are expected to receive smooth passage, given that Dixon won by an overwhelming majority in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.

Dixon beat City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and five other candidates in the election. Dixon, who took over the remainder of Martin O'Malley's mayoral term when he became governor in January, will face Republican Elbert R. Henderson in the Nov. 6 general election.

"I believe that these all have an extremely good chance of passing, considering the landslide victory that voters have given Mayor Dixon this past week," said City Council Vice President Robert W. Curran, who serves as Dixon's floor leader. "It's quite obvious that there was a mandate and that the citizens trust in Sheila Dixon's leadership."

Though the legislation does not mention the project by name, one bill being introduced is expected to clear the way for the city to offer a tax break to the Fitzgerald project that is planned for the Midtown-Belvedere neighborhood. The development, at West Mount Royal Avenue and West Oliver Street, will include 280 market-rate units, roughly 14,000 square feet of retail space and an 1,100-space garage.

The project is being developed by Bozzuto Development Co., Michael McCrary, a former defensive end for the Ravens, and Parking Management Inc.

The administration is also contemplating setting aside a number of parking spaces in the city for short-term car rental programs, such as Zipcar and Flexcar. The legislation does not say how many spaces would be set aside, but rather gives the city the authority to create zones where the cars could be parked - and other cars could be towed away.

Both companies allow customers who pay an annual fee to rent cars, usually on a short-term basis. Ellice Perez, a regional vice president for Zipcar, said that the District of Columbia has set aside about 50 parking spots for the cars and that surrounding counties have set aside additional spots.

Another bill would require businesses that offer valet parking - as well as private contractors that provide valet parking services - to be licensed by the city. Businesses would have to provide the parking authority with a plan that would, among other things, address traffic flow and the number of spaces to be set aside for the valet zone.

The legislation would allow the authority to set licensing fees, but the bill does not say specifically what those fees will be. Frank, the deputy mayor, said that the revenue generated from the fees would be used to administer the program.

Sam Jaskulsky, who runs a valet service for the Ciao Bella restaurant in Little Italy, said he is skeptical of the city's efforts to regulate valet parking and is concerned the added rules and fines will reduce the number of valet options available. That, he said, could make parking and getting around neighborhoods such as Little Italy a nightmare.

"The biggest problem is going to be traffic," he said. "If they see a sign that says `valet,' they're going to pull in. We're providing a service. Traffic's going to be absurd. The people in the neighborhood, they already complain about the traffic as is."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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