New zoning codes – the District is not alone (part II) Reply

Part 2 of a series looking at a few of the other cities undergoing a zoning code revision. Today, we are off to Baltimore!

Baltimore’s proposed new code, dubbed “TransForm Baltimore,” rewrites Charm City’s existing 40 year old code. The city’s existing zoning code was developed by a commission appointed in 1957 and was eventually approved in 1971. It followed a suburban model– separating commercial and residential uses. According to the Baltimore City Planning Department, the existing code is not only outdated, but is overly complex, with hundreds of overlay districts, Urban Renewal Plans and Planned Unit Developments. Understanding and working within these complexities is often expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable. For example, the existing code does not readily permit the creation of new mixed-use developments — it can often take months or years of administrative maneuvers and an act of City Council to convert an old industrial building to a mixed-use residential/commercial space.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor (photo: Jawed Karim) Baltimore’s Inner Harbor (photo: Jawed Karim)

TransForm Baltimore was approved by the city’s Planning Commission in April 2013 and has been sent to Baltimore City Council for approval. The new code is designed to be easier to use and understand, more predictable and enforceable. The goals of Transform Baltimore include:
• Increasing user-friendliness;
• Improving administration;
• Modernizing use structure;
• Incorporating urban design objectives;
• Preserving neighborhood character while promoting appropriate redevelopment;
• Ensuring coordination with the Comprehensive Plan;
• Integrating Urban Renewal Plans; and
• Promoting sustainable development.

TransForm Baltimore is part of the city’s effort to become a more competitive, livable place. Like the District’s ZRR, Baltimore’s proposed code follows the adoption of a new comprehensive plan (Live, Earn, Play, Learn). Baltimore’s proposed code encourages transit-oriented development by allowing greater density, mixed uses, and fewer parking spaces. It includes innovative provisions, like shared parking, which would allow office workers to use spaces during the day and residents overnight (something we are also proposing in our ZRR). In order to capitalize on the city’s existing strengths, the new code allows for greater flexibility for hospitals, colleges and universities, and mixed-use biotech areas. It streamlines the process for allowing limited commercial uses, such as art galleries, offices and cafes in some residential areas. Additionally, the code establishes a process to ensure all site plans are properly reviewed and provides design guidelines to help maintain neighborhood character.

In addition to TransForm Baltimore’s focus on pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities, Baltimore’s proposed code is similar to the District’s ZRR in a number of ways. Baltimore’s new greening regulations, much like the District’s pervious surface requirements, limit impervious surface coverage for residential zones with the goal of improving stormwater management. In addition, Baltimore’s proposed new guidelines for the size, location, and design of bike parking are similar to the District’s proposed bike parking requirements. Moreover, Baltimore’s code is intended to enable residents to shop near their homes instead of having to always drive to shopping, which should help relieve congestion on city streets while reinforcing neighborhood character. Grocery stores are permitted within walking distance of residential areas, akin to the District’s proposed corner store regulations. Baltimore’s current code is similar to the District’s existing code in that they both attempt to list all permitted and prohibited uses, a nearly impossible task. Both new codes propose to list broad generic categories of uses rather than identifying specific individual uses.

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