Land Use and Transportation Committee Discusses Design Standards

The most recent Land Use and Transportation Committee worksession on Baltimore’s new zoning code was held on July 15.  At this meeting, the Committee returned to the text of the code and covered the design standards included in the code.

A representative from the Planning Department explained that design standards are a relatively new addition to zoning codes, but the practice is rapidly increasing.  They are particularly prominent in form based codes like our currently proposed code.

Planning also explained the difference between bulk regulations and design standards.  Bulk regulations determine aspects like height and lot size.  Design standards cover aspects such as building materials, placement of windows, and a building’s relationship towards the street.  Design standards are primarily for new construction or major renovations.  They are reviewed during the building permit phase of construction.

During the Planning Commission’s (not to be confused with the planning board) review of the code, they recommended that the design standards be placed in their own manual instead of in the code as they are currently. However, it is up to the City Council to make the final decision as to where the design standards go.

Councilwoman Clarke said she feels that the design standards – and any amendments to them – should be approved by the City Council.  She pointed to several instances of structures in her district that she felt were poorly designed and out of place with the neighborhood surrounding them.  Clarke said she would like some sort of oversight mechanism for design.  In particular, she pointed to 3400 Roland Avenue as an example of a development that is out of place.

In response to Councilwoman Clarke’s concerns, Planning explained that the issue is really a matter of taste, with different neighborhoods wanting different things.

Councilman Jim Kraft then said he was unsure about the design standards in general.  Councilman Kraft pointed out that in his district, developers pay architects very good money to come up with their designs – designs that he feels look awful.  The Councilman is unsure if this will improve things or make them worse.

Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton then had a complaint about enforcement issues.  In particular, she complained about how construction was occurring in the historic Ashburton neighborhood that ignored the design standards for historic districts.  Planning explained that there is a problem with contractors not getting the appropriate permits for construction.

At the end of the worksession, Councilwoman Clarke submitted an amendment that mandated the Planning Commission hold hearings for “minor Planned Unit Development amendments and all other site specific projects subject to Planning Commission action.” Councilwoman Clarke submitted this amendment because of an issue she had with a development in Hoes Heights, with the community only learning about an important change in the project a short time before the hearing.  According to Clarke, this is already Planning Commission policy, but she wants it written into law.  Councilwoman Clarke also thanked Land Use and Transportation Committee Chair Edward Reisinger for allowing her to introduce this amendment out of order.

The next worksession will be announced at an upcoming City Council meeting.

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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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