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The Nose

Industrial Disease

Posted 2/12/2003

The Nose has been intermittently following City Council bill 02-0701, which debuted last March. To quote from its windy summary, 0701 is "For the purpose of authorizing and clarifying the authority of the Department of Housing and Community Development to exercise certain powers in connection with the acquisition and disposition of land and other property for the purposes of industrial growth." Blah blah blah. Essentially, this legislation, heavily promoted by the quasi-public economic-development agency the Baltimore Development Corp., gives the city the ability to use condemnation as a means to assemble properties for industrial growth. At a planning commission meeting last summer we caught the Baltimore Development Corp.'s South Baltimore Director of Economic Development Larisa Salamacha conducting a PowerPoint presentation on the urgent need for 0701. She showed vast tracks of fallow and forlorn industrial property in Fairfield that the city would like to offer up for redevelopment--if only the often-multinational corporations who own the land could be rousted into action. As it is, they largely ignore their Baltimore holdings. Land wasted, tax revenue lost. With the big guns behind it, the bill moved forward through sundry hearings and readings, was tweaked here and there, and seemed destined for council approval on Jan. 27. Only it was shot down in flames, receiving only five "yea" votes. Salamacha says she was "surprised" by the outcome. "We regret that there's been some ambiguity about what the bill is trying to do," she says. "It's extremely important to us."

"It shocked the daylights out of me when the bill failed,² says 1st District City Councilwoman

Lois Garey--and this despite the fact that she was one of the council members who voted against it. ("Too ambiguous for me,² she says. "I have problems with condemnation legislation in general.²)

Condemnation has become a four-letter word for many people. Remington-based community activist Ward Eisinger, for example, who battled 0701 from the get-go. Though geared toward the city's industrial areas, he says the bill's loosely defined terms and murky wording "would make the whole city an urban renewal area and grant the city the powers to take land at their discretion."

While Eisinger might be going a little overboard, the bill is seen in some circles as a threat to private property and "the little guy." And let's not forget that the City Council soon faces downsizing and redistricting. With many council members facing tough, street-level re-election bids, the Nose figures they can ill afford to upset the same "little guys" their political futures rest on.

As Nose understands it, however, the mayor is very much behind the condemnation bill. And though voted down, 0701 was not voted dead. Indeed, at the Feb. 10 council meeting, 2nd District City Councilwoman Paula Branch successfully led a motion to have the bill sent back to the Urban Affairs Committee for further tweaking. "We will look at amending the bill as a means to address concerns raised by community residents," she says.

Seems like the "little guy," for now at least, has got the council by the earlobes.

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