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Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 6/24/2009

There were two City Council meetings on June 15--one held at 3 p.m. and another held at 5 p.m. This column covers the 3 p.m. meeting.

Bill 09-0351 Zoning–Conditional Use–Amending Ordinance 03-546. Would expand a parking lot at 3010 E. Northern Parkway to include the property next door.

The read: 3012 E. Northern Parkway is listed as a principle residence; Google Maps shows it to be a house. I could not immediately reach the owner. Presumably he/she/they know about, and consent to, the property being turned into a parking lot.

Bill 09-0352 Environmental Citations–Penalties. This would exempt trash tickets from the list of city fines that can become property liens.

The Read: Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young (D-12th District) introduced this bill, he says, to preclude problems with the new "One Plus One" trash-collection system costing people their homes. Water bills used to cost people their homes, he says, and he doesn't want trash tickets to become "another method where people could lose their property."

Bill 09-0353 Commercial Vehicles–Stopping by Residence. This would make an exception to the city's law against parking a work truck in a residential area for more than an hour.

Bill 09-0354 Stopping Standing, or Parking Citations–Request for Nolle Prosequi. This would make it easier to get mistakenly issued parking tickets thrown out of court.

The Read: Councilman Bill Henry (D-4th District) introduced these two bills in tandem, he says, after a constituent got a ticket while working on someone's home. The current ordinance forbids parking a commercial truck on a residential street for more than an hour unless the truck's owner is actually on the job. But it's not convenient for parking-enforcement people to go knock on every door looking for the driver. 09-0353 would spare the ticket if the driver puts a note in the windshield with a contact number and the address where he or she is working. The companion bill, 09-0354, allows the city's Transportation Director to ask the prosecutor to drop the charges "if written or photographic documentation has been submitted to the director that conclusively demonstrates that, in fact, no violation has occurred." Says Henry: "So the parking ticket you got doesn't drag you down to court for the morning even if you shouldn't have gotten the ticket in the first place."

Bill 09-0355 Open-Flame Cooking Devices–Limitations. This would tighten the prohibition of on-deck grilling in rowhouses.

The Read: The law prohibits the use of charcoal or gas grills "on combustible balconies or within 10 feet of combustible construction." The law currently excepts "one and two-family dwellings." The proposed bill would instead exempt "single-family detached dwellings."

Resolution 09-0134R Informational Hearing–Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Baltimore Police Department–Cause of Death. Asks Maryland Chief Medical Examiner David Fowler to explain why the cause of so many Baltimore deaths is "undetermined."

The Read: Former City Paper contributor Stephen Janis over at Investigative Voice has been hammering on this issue for several years now: He thinks it's fishy that Baltimore has some 250 or so murders per year but 350 or 400 other deaths are "undetermined." Using the medical examiner's annual report, he recently reported that the number of undetermined deaths state-wide increased by 21 percent between 2005 and 2007. Councilwoman Belinda K. Conaway (D-7th District) would like an explanation.

Resolution 09-0135R Informational Hearing–Vacant Property Security Inc. Invites a sales pitch from a company that boards up vacant buildings with steel grates instead of plywood.

The Read: "Other cities are moving away from plywood," Councilman Henry tells his colleagues, because plywood is too easy to break through. Henry's resolution reads like a commercial for the vendor: "Vacant Property Security (VPS) is a worldwide leader in the protection and management of vacant properties . . . " with a solution consisting of "attractively-designed, modular steel-plated doors," etc. The city owns some 4,000 vacant buildings that it must keep boarded and secure.

Resolution 09-0136R Investigative Hearing–Urban Modular Home Factory. Will explore the feasibility of the city government's creating and operating a factory in which modular houses would be built.

The Read: Henry says he was interested in modular homes when he learned they were cheaper to build than houses built on-site. He became more interested, he says, when he found out that modulars--these are like complete rooms that are factory-built, shipped on trucks and assembled at a home site--are also "technically greener" than traditional site-built housing, since all the waste can be kept in one place and recycled. He says his idea is probably not practical during "these tough budget times," but he wants to "start a conversation." So talk among yourselves.

Resolution 09-0137R The Baltimore City Youth Development Task Force. This would establish a group to work with the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, and the Family League to figure out how to pay for youth activities.

The Read: "It just feels like every year we always have this issue of, 'Oh, if only we could put more money into youth programs,'" says Henry, the resolution's sponsor. The funds get cut, he says, then there are protests, then the funds are restored, "and it feels like we're on a gerbil wheel. What I'd like to do is just get off the gerbil wheel for a couple of months" and figure out some longer -term priorities.

The next Council meeting is scheduled for July 13 at 5 p.m.

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