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Business & Developmentby Ed Gunts12:16 pmNov 9, 20150

Giving residents “a voice” on the fate of surplus city property

City-owned schools and other non-residential buildings could not be razed without the approval of the City Council under a bill proposed by Councilman Bill Henry

Above: The Langston Hughes school, closed over the summer, is now in limbo.

The city of Baltimore would no longer be able to tear down city-owned buildings without the City Council passing an ordinance to permit demolition under a bill proposed by Councilman Bill Henry.

Henry said he introduced the legislation to correct an “oversight” in city policy that has become critical as more municipal real estate, such as schools, recreation centers, office buildings, fire stations, and warehouses, becomes surplus property.

“If we want to name a city-owned property, we need approval from the Mayor and Council,” he said. “If we want to sell a city-owned property, we need approval from the Mayor and City Council.”

But if a city agency wants to tear down a city-owned building, it doesn’t need prior approval from the Council or feedback from the community at large, Henry said.

The councilman said he researched the situation at the request of his constituents who expressed concerns about the demolition of surplus schools and recreation centers without community notice or support, under the $1 billion school reconstruction program now underway.

Only “Landmark” Buildings Reviewed

Henry said he could not cite a specific case of a demolition that constituents brought to his attention. He said it was more a general concern about giving the public a chance to weigh in on decisions involving the fate of city-owned buildings.

At present, there is no consistent process for citizens “that ensures that they have a voice” in decisions involving demolition of city buildings.

“This is specifically for city-owned structures that are available for public use” rather than abandoned rowhouses and other residential property acquired by the city, he told The Brew.

The Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, where Henry sits as the Council’s representative, holds hearings on proposals to demolish municipal buildings that have been designated landmarks or are considered important to historic districts.

But CHAP does not review proposals to demolish buildings, such as schools or rec centers, that don’t have landmark status.

He said he believes it is appropriate to require City Council to pass an ordinance  before a city-owned building is demolished, because that would require a public hearing and give communities a chance to learn about and comment on proposed demolitions.

The bill, No. 15-0590, is written “for the purpose of prohibiting the demolition or reconstruction of certain city-owned structures unless expressly authorized by an ordinance of the Mayor and City Council.”

It has gained 10 Council co-sponsors and was referred to the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee for a hearing.

“This is correcting what I hope is an oversight,” Henry said. “Hopefully this is just closing the loop so the community would have the full councilmanic process to express any concerns.”

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