S. Charles Village Considers Urban Renewal Ordinance

by Alice Cherbonnier
       TO DAN KLOCKE, executive director of the Charles Village Community Benefits District (CVCBD), the plusses of the South Charles commercial district far outweigh the negatives.
       “This place could really boom,” he predicted. But that is much more likely to happen, he said, if the area chooses to become an urban renewal district, something the CVCBD called for three years ago as part of its master plan.
       Mr. Klocke made these remarks at a well-attended meeting on February 21 at Lovely Lane Methodist Church.
       “Developers appreciate an urban renewal ordinance,” he said, “because it lays out what the community wants and gives a blueprint to follow.”
       He said developers are very interested in coming to the area, attracted by the success of the Safeway at 24th and North Charles Streets, and the Hollywood Video on 25th Street. These chain stores will soon be joined by a CVS at 25th and North Charles Streets.
       The CVS site was recently cleared of ten century-old townhouses, upsetting many community residents seeking to preserve the area’s architectural character and pedestrian-oriented ambience.
       Mr. Klocke pointed out that nothing in current city law can prevent a building from being torn down. An urban renewal ordinance, however, can protect a neighborhood by setting design guidelines. “Canton, Fell’s Point, and Federal Hill all have urban renewal ordinances in place,” he pointed out. “New money is being put into old buildings, and also for new construction that blends in, and new creative uses for old buildings.”
       City planner Adrienne Bell explained that seeking urban renewal status is a nine- to eighteen-month process that is “extremely detail-oriented.” “You need a steering committee, you have to set goals and objectives, and then you hold public meetings and get community input,” she said. “Then you produce drafts [of the ordinance], release them for public comment, and do it again, and again, and again.”
       Jim Hall, a Planning Department specialist in urban renewal ordinances, noted that there has been a major shift in what this designation means. “The early ones [in the 1950s and 1960s] were from the top down,” he said. “The new ones are much more neighborhood processes.” While other parts of the city have urban renewal ordinances in place--Mount Vernon, Waverly, and the Inner Harbor, for example--“Charles Village has always been relatively okay and did not need an ordinance,” he said.
       The area needs a plan now, Mr. Hall explained, to prevent haphazard demolition and development. “We can have additional rules above and beyond the zoning laws,” he said. “We can have stricter land use controls and set [property] maintenance standards.”
       Jay Gouline, an architect with offices in the area, told the group, “We need this to preserve our charm and prevent more CVS projects. Right now the community has little power to preserve. Only a handful of buildings cannot be torn down.”
       Once in place, an urban renewal ordinance can be effective indefinitely and be changed as needs require, Mr. Hall said.
       Mr. Klocke encouraged public involvement in the preliminary phases of creating the ordinance. For information, call 235-4411.

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This story was published on March 1, 2000.