City planners aiming to limit Baltimore parking lots

Sprawling concrete lots in the middle of downtown Baltimore are a thing of the past.  

But parking garages that are hidden from street view and also double as apartment complexes or retail stores? That’s the future of parking in the city, urban planners say.

At least, it will be if the Baltimore City Council approves changes to Baltimore’s zoning code, the first such update since 1971.

A preliminary version of the plan includes more green space, walkable neighborhoods and mixed use areas with a blend of commercial and residential spaces.

“Our goal is to have this passed by the end of the year,” said Thomas J. Stosur, director of the city’s Department of Planning.

In Focus | New zoning codes won’t only impact parking lots. More than 100 corner liquor stores are expected to be zoned out of business. We go in-depth on the issue Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Stosur said if the plan is approved, no new parking lots will be allowed in downtown Baltimore.

“Parking lots are inherently pedestrian unfriendly,” Stosur said.

They also don’t get used for anything else once they are built. City planners want to see structures with multiple uses—a trend that’s picking up steam in cities both big and small.

“It just promotes a more efficient use of land,” said Jacquelyn Seneschal, president of the American Planning Association’s Maryland chapter.

The disappearance of parking lots is happening in cities across the country, Seneschal said.

Like Stosur, she said they’re unappealing to pedestrians.

Letter: Zoning proposal for downtown surface parking lots

Blank walls and flat pavements discourage people from walking through urban neighborhoods, she said.

“You want to promote the overall vitality of the downtown area,” Seneschal said.

There’s also an interest in encouraging as many people as possible to take public transportation, like Baltimore’s light rail and Metro systems, she said.

But Seneschal added people who commute from the suburbs and want the convenience of having their cars nearby might not like the idea of having fewer parking lots.

Stosur maintains the city has enough parking.

“Fifteen years ago, building more parking was a top priority,” he said.

Carol Silldorff, executive director of Bike Maryland, a bicycling advocacy group, likes the potential changes.

But she added she would like to see city planners add more bike racks to city garages, and more bicycle parking in general.

Parking lots everywhere take away any incentives for people to use alternative transportation, which is what Bike Maryland wants to promote.

“They really do go hand in hand,” Silldorff said.

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