Special Purpose Districts

At the most recent Transform Baltimore worksession, the Land Use and Transportation Committee discussed Special Purpose Districts.

This worksession was posted to YouTube and can be viewed below:

A Special Purpose District is a district that does not fit into any of the other single use categories.  They cover a a variety of uses.

OR – Office-Residential District: This is for areas that contain a mix of office and residential uses.  Zoning guidelines ensure that office uses do not conflict with the residential nature of the area.  Areas zoned OR include buildings in the Mount Vernon/Midtown-Belvedere area and portions of Charles Village.

TOD – Transit-Oriented Development Districts: This designation allows development around Metro, Light Rail, and planned Red Line stations of varying densities.  CPHA gave an overview of this designation in an earlier eblast.  The overriding idea behind the TOD districts is to allow for development that is designed around walkability rather than automobile access.

EC – Educational Campus District: This designation is for educational facilities.  There are two designations.  An EC-1 District covers primary or secondary schools and EC-2 covers colleges and universities.  The main difference between EC-1 and Ec-2 is that EC-2 allows for non-educational uses like dorms and restaurants.  Both the EC-1 category and the EC-2 Category allow for creation of a campus master plan.  The campus master plan can be used in lieu of the EC zoning requirements but it must be approved by the City Council.

H – Hospital Campus District: This district is for hospitals.  If the hospital desires, it may submit a general development plan in lieu of the zoning requirements.  The general development plan must be approved by the City Council.

T – Transportation District: This district covers road, rail and other transportation corridors.

There are also a number of overlay districts in this category.  An overlay district is a zoning designation laid over an existing zone.  It either allows for additional uses not allowed in other portions of this zone or puts restrictions not in place in other portions of this zone.

IH – Inclusionary Housing Overlay District: This “district” relates to the city’s ineffective inclusionary housing law.  It’s not really a district on the map so much as it is a designation for development projects that must comply with the inclusionary housing law.  The Council had trouble understanding it and there’s a good chance it will be removed from the code.

W – Waterfront Overlay Districts: Covers non-industrial waterfront areas like Canton, Fells Point, etc.  The elements of this zoning category are already in place.  The Water Overlay Districts just put them in the code itself.

R-MU – Rowhouse Mixed-Use Overlay District: This could be considered the “cousin” of neighborhood commercial and is found in rowhouse zones and OR zones. Rowhouses within this district may have small-scale commercial establishments.  The following uses are allowed under this designation as a matter of right, meaning that there is no need for zoning board approval:

  • Art gallery
  • Arts studios
  • Day care center: child or adult
  • Health-care clinic
  • Office
  • Personal services establishment
  • Restaurant
  • Retail good establishment – no alcohol sales

The following uses are conditional uses and require zoning board approval:

  • Outdoor dining
  • Use of upper floor for a non-residential use

D-MU – Detached Mixed-Use: Very similar to R-MU, except it is for detached houses.  This use is only found on small parts of Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Boulevard.

The following uses  on the bottom floor are allowed as a matter of right:

  • Art gallery
  • Arts studios
  • Day-care center
  • Health-care clinic
  • Office

The upper floors can be used for non-residential purposes with zoning board approval.

AU – Adult Use Overlay District: This district is for adult-oriented businesses, and such, businesses can only be placed in this district.  The only place on the zoning maps we could find it was on Baltimore Street in between Water and South Gay Streets.  According to the code, this zoning category can only be created with approval from the zoning commission and the City Council.

The worksession started off with a discussion about the TOD Districts.  Councilman Kraft expressed support for these districts but was concerned that many of the sites in his district (which includes Canton and Fells Point) zoned for TOD don’t yet have transit.  The planning department responded that in the case of the Red Line, the TOD designations function as a sort of trigger  for when the Red Line is built.  Kraft also expressed his desire to City Department of Transportation officials in the room that he wanted to see more transit improvements, such as bus only lanes, so that more people will use transit and TODs will be more effective.  Councilwoman Rikki Spector and Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton also said they supported the TOD designations but wanted to make sure that the public would have adequate input into how they are built.

The next major topic of discussion was that of the R-MU and D-MU categories.  Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke stated that she had submitted an amendment to delete both categories from the zoning code.  She also announced that she would remove all R-MU zoning from her district.

Councilman Henry also had some concerns and questions about R-MU; in particular, he wanted to know what flexibility he had when it came to altering it.  However, Henry did voice his support for the category as long as councilmembers can protect their districts through mapping.

Councilman Kraft asked why the category was needed in the first place.  The planning department responded that this designation was about protecting the character of neighborhoods.  Many of the properties zoned for R-MU are on busy streets and it may not be desirable to live in the bottom floor of these buildings.  However, their location makes them perfect for small-scale commercial establishments.  The R-MU designation allows for some commercial use and prevents these rowhomes from being torn down and turned into commercial strips.  The basic message planning wanted to express to the Council was that R-MU has the potential to be a useful tool.  The Council was encouraged to not “throw the baby out with the bath water” and to instead amend the R-MU category so that it works to their liking instead of deleting it.

CPHA agrees with the Planning Department.  Zoning designations like R-MU, Neighborhood Commercial, and Industrial Mixed-Use are essential if we want Baltimore to be a walkable, livable city for the 21st Century.  If you feel the same way we do about these zoning designations, we encourage you to contact your City Council representative and tell them why these issues are important to you.  These progressive elements of the new code are in real danger of being eliminated or significantly amended.

The Council also had a lengthy discussion about the Educational Campus District.  Councilwoman Clarke and Councilwoman Middleton submitted a number of amendments on behalf of several North Baltimore neighborhoods heavily impacted by educational campuses.  Most of this discussion revolved around the process behind campus master plans.

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Gregory Friedman

Gregory Friedman

This article was written by Gregory Friedman. Click here to meet our writing team.

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