Dixon amends port proposal

Provision aims to preserve harbor's industrial character

June 13, 2008|By John Fritze | John Fritze,SUN REPORTER

Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration has amended a proposal that could affect the long-term character of the harbor, making it harder for developers to build townhomes and office towers where port-related businesses once thrived.

Responding to criticism from large industrial businesses and the Maryland Port Administration, City Hall added new criteria to a proposed zoning law that proponents said would help protect the harbor's historic industrial character.

"We have to make sure that the port of Baltimore continues to stay viable," said Demaune Millard, who is Dixon's director of government relations.

Baltimore enacted a maritime zoning district along the waterfront in 2004 to prohibit development in large swaths of the harbor, from Curtis Bay to the Canton Industrial Area. The stricter regulations forbid new hotels, offices and homes on certain properties.

The regulations, city officials said at the time, would help preserve city-based manufacturing jobs by relieving the pressure on industrial businesses to sell their property to developers. Those properties can fetch large sums from developers competing for views of the water.

Industrial business leaders have also said they are wary of homes moving too close to industry, because residents often discover they don't want to live with the noise, smells and truck traffic.

"This is a deep-water industry," said Del. Brian K. McHale, a Baltimore Democrat. "You can't just pick this industry up and put it somewhere else. We want stability in the port of Baltimore."

The current law, however, is set to expire in 2014.

This year, the Dixon administration proposed extending the tougher regulations attached to the maritime zoning district by a decade, to 2024. But businesses also would have been permitted to "opt out" of the regulations beginning in 2014. That provision prompted criticism from a number of industrial businesses concerned that a large number of companies would have chosen to opt out - weakening the district.

An amended proposal approved last night by the city Planning Commission would permit businesses to opt out but would make that process more difficult. Among other criteria, a developer would have to demonstrate that a proposed project would sustain or enhance maritime industrial development.

The amended language would also require that development within the district would be "adequately" separated from industry and that it would sustain or enhance transportation access into and out of the port.

The changes, which move to the City Council for approval, created new opposition to the bill from developers. Struever Bros. Chief Executive Officer C. William Struever said he wished the debate over the maritime industrial zoning overlay district - or MIZOD - wasn't always cast as developers against industrial businesses.

"There is lots of land to expand the port today," Struever said. "This is an extreme limitation on the city's ability to plan for its future."

Dixon spokesman Sterling Clifford said the administration worked to find compromise on the measure, because "the MIZOD and the waterfront generally are so important to the city from an economic and a historic perspective."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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