Transform Baltimore

Transform Baltimore is the name of Baltimore City’s comprehensive zoning rewrite.  Baltimore last rewrote its zoning code in 1971 and a lot has changed since then.  Much of the media coverage has focused on the closures of non-conforming liquor stores, but the rewrite is about way more than reducing alcohol outlets.  We’ve been covering the code in depth in our Tales of Transform Baltimore Blog.  This page is intended to serve as an introduction to the code and to give a brief overview of the major changes being proposed.  We’ll also be updating it as the code progresses through the Council.

A Brief History

Based off of the recommendations of Baltimore’s 2006 Master Plan, preparations for the new zoning code began in 2008. Hearings were held by the Planning Commission in 2012 and the City Council held its own set of hearings in 2013. In 2014, the Council Land Use and Transportation Committee started to go through the code page by page in a series of work sessions. These took over a year.

The Land Use and Transportation Committee must now vote on over 700 proposed amendments to the code. After that the Council as a whole must vote on these amendments.  City Council primary elections will be held in the Spring of 2016. If the bill is not yet passed by then, the Council will have to start the whole process over.

Major Issues

It’s been over 40 years since Baltimore’s last zoning rewrite so there’s a lot in the new code that is changing and with change comes controversy.  Some of the biggest changes and CPHA discussion of them are listed below.

 Conditional Uses

A conditional use is a use that due to the impact it has on a surrounding community is best approved on a case by case basis.  This is different from a permitted use that is allowed as a matter of right.  Conditional uses vary from zone to zone.  Under the current code conditional uses can be done through the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA) or through the City Council as an ordinance.  However, the proposed code calls for the elimination of conditional use approval through the City Council.  Read our primer on conditional uses and the process behind them to find out why CPHA and our many partners support this change.

Alcohol Outlet Density Reduction

When Baltimore passed its last zoning code in 1971, new liquor stores were banned from opening up in residential areas, but the existing ones were allowed to stay with the hope that they would eventually close.  This did not happen.  The new code calls for these stores to move to another location, close, or sell something other than alcohol within two years of the code’s passage.

The code also proposes that licensees with tavern or (BD-7) licenses devote at least half of their space and sales to onsite consumption.  Currently, many owners of these licenses operate their businesses like a liquor store and refuse to get a license designed for liquor stores since the tavern license allows them to remain open on Sunday and have longer hours.

Under the new code, liquor stores would also need to be at least 300 feet apart. This was instituted in order to limit saturation of liquor stores in a certain area.

This has been the one of the most controversial and widely discussed aspects of the code.  CPHA has prepared a detailed guide to this issue on the importance of its passage.

Neighborhood Commercial and Rowhouse Mixed-Use

Many of Baltimore’s neighborhoods have historically been host to a mix of uses.  In particular, corner stores were once a hallmark of Baltimore’s rowhouse communities.  But Baltimore’s current zoning code makes it nearly impossible for new corner stores to open up.  The Neighborhood Commerical provision of the code would allow for  buildings in rowhouse neighborhoods that have at one time been used for commercial purposes to once again be used for a limited number of commercial uses with BMZA approval. Unfortunately, this proposal has been met with resistance from some members of the City Council.

Over the past year CPHA has covered Neighborhood Commercial in depth.  Click here to read more about this category and the positive impact it could have on Baltimore.

Rowhouse Mixed-Use (R-MU) could perhaps best be thought of as the cousin to Neighborhood Commercial.  It is an overlay over rowhouse zones that will allow for certain properties to be used for a limited number of commercial uses.  The idea behind this designation is that there are certain areas in our rowhouse communities that would be good candidates for non-residential uses.  In order to ensure these structures remain rowhouses, they are not being zoned commercial.  There are also a number of areas where properties are being down-zoned from a commercial designation to the Rowhouse Mixed-Use overlay because the Planning Department feels this would better fit in with the character of the community. To read more about this category, click here.

Parking Requirements

It has been increasingly recognized in urban planning circles that parking requirements serve to encourage auto use and can be detrimental to our urban form.  With this in mind, there are numerous provisions of the code that ease them.  Read our post to find out what’s being proposed and how Land Use and Transportation Committee members feel about them.

Industrial Mixed-Use

Baltimore has a long and proud industrial heritage.  However, the economy has changed and many structures that were once used for industrial uses are or are becoming obsolete.  The Industrial Mixed-Use category seeks to find ways to creatively reuse these buildings through the promotion of mixed-use development such as artist live/work spaces.  You can read more about this unique category and its potential by clicking here.

Other Resources