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Council Grants Preliminary Approval for Trust Fund and Complete Streets

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Baltimore City Council gave preliminary approval Monday night to a measure that would create a $20 million trust fund aimed at affordable housing. The vote resolved a debate that erupted last week between council members and housing advocates who feared some amendments would hurt the fund. Morning Edition Host Nathan Sterner talks about those amendments and the council meeting with WYPR's Dominique Maria Bonessi.

NATHAN: What did these amendments do to the legislation?

DOMINIQUE: There are two amendments. The first is a grandfather clause in which any properties over one million dollars up until seven months after the bill’s effective date will be exempt from paying the additional recordation tax on that property. The debate last week was that advocates worried that this clause would cut funding by $5 to $10 million, but after they actually had the department of finance do that math they determined it was only $1.15 million. This put the city council members' and the housing advocates' minds at ease and they proceeded to accept the amendment.

The second is a sunset clause which was voted down by all members of the council, but Councilman Eric Costello. In an email last week, Costello said, the bill would have allowed the city council to reexamine the legislation after seven years of its implementation to see if the fund has been successful and if any changes needed to be made.

NATHAN: Also approved on second reader last night was Northeastern District City Councilman Ryan Dorsey’s complete streets legislation. Do we know what that bill will entail?

DOMINIQUE: To explain this you have to go back to last summer when biking advocates in the city and the city’s department of transportation got into debate about whether or not to get rid of the bike lane in southeast Baltimore. Dorsey’s bill would create a process with the DOT which would allow residents to bring up concerns or ideas for transportation projects in the city. This is how Dorsey explained what the bill boils down to:

DORSEY: “This is about saying, we have to make some values assessment of how we build our city and for whom and what we are expecting the outcomes realistically to be. We can either build or city around driving and parking, or we can build it around people.”

DOMINIQUE: Dorsey says this legislation also comes with an annual report in which a year after this bill goes into effect the DOT has to present a complete streets report about what projects they are doing, what the need is in the neighborhood for the project , and how much the project costs.

NATHAN: There were also several new bills introduced last night. Council President Jack Young introduced legislation already approved by the state to make Baltimore a Tourism Improvement District. Can you explain what that is?

DOMINIQUE: This legislation would allow for Visit Baltimore, the organization in charge of attracting tourism to the city, to design and fund tourism in the city. Before goes into effect, it would need the approval of hotels throughout the city. City council members at the luncheon earlier yesterday seemed to be confused about where the tourism district was, and the representative from Visit Baltimore said it was the whole city. To which the city council members replied, “The whole city?”

NATHAN: Okay so we will be hearing more about that bill as it moves to the taxation, finance, and economic development committee. There was another bill heading to that committee as well that was introduced right?

DOMINIQUE: Yes, so northern district City Councilman Bill Henry proposed that the tax increment financing projects—or TIFs--given to big developments like Port Covington must pay their employees a prevailing wage. This legislation is filling a loop hole in the TIF law. Henry said that if the city were to develop the land they would be contractually obligated to provide a prevailing wage to workers for the development, so why shouldn’t developers be obligated to do the same?

NATHAN: So where should we be seeing these bills next?

DOMINIQUE: The affordable housing trust fund and the complete streets legislation will go to a final vote in city council before it hits the mayor's desk in two weeks. And the others aren’t scheduled for committees until next month.

WYPR's Morning Edition news anchor Ashley Sterner serves up the latest Maryland news and weather every weekday morning, delightfully interspersed with the occasional snarky comment.
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