Monday, September 12, 2016

Corner Store Chaos

By Josh Greenfeld
In 2013, GRIA submitted a request to the Baltimore City Council to change the zoning of 12 corner-store properties to commercial as part of the ongoing city-wide rezoning process known as Transform Baltimore. This change in zoning would allow businesses to move into the vacant buildings. It would also allow the existing corner stores, which are able to operate only because they are grandfathered in, to change to other types of businesses.

But the city-wide rezoning process is still under debate, and the timing of final passage and implementation is unknown. So starting last Spring, GRIA and many neighbors began an effort to immediately rezone these 12 key corner properties in Remington by passing an independent ordinance through the City Council. In December of 2015, the rezoning ordinance was passed by the Baltimore City Council thanks to Councilmember Carl Stokes, supported by strong resident turnout at the hearings.

In March however, RNA Board Member Doug Armstrong (husband of RNA President Joan Floyd) and former RNA Board Member Romaine Johnson filed a “Petition for Judicial Review” in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City (Case No. 24c15006204). This legal action results in a judge evaluating complaints about the language of a law or the way it was passed. The judge sided with Armstrong and Johnson and voided the ordinance citing a lack of evidence in the factual record showing the ordinance will benefit the entire community rather than only the property owners.

On Aug. 9, GRIA was informed that Armstrong and Johnson took an unusual step, an appeal to their already-successful appeal, in an attempt to block the City Council from taking any action on the rezoning in the near future until after Transform Baltimore is passed. On Aug. 15, GRIA introduced a brand new rezoning bill for the same 12 properties, one that will address the alleged deficiencies the judge found in the previous version, sponsored jointly by Councilmembers Stokes and Mary Pat Clarke.

This new bill will go before the Planning Commission for approval on Sept. 15 before being heard by the Land Use & Transportation Committee of the City Council. GRIA expects the bill to pass and become law in mid-October, at which point the new businesses such as the planned barbershop on the corner of Howard and Lorraine, can open in the neighborhood.