The City Council president has not withdrawn a bill seeking to delay the demolition of the McKeldin Fountain in the Inner Harbor, his spokesman says.
“There has been no formal withdrawal,” Lester Davis says, “in the sense that when something is formally withdrawn from City Council consideration.”
On Tuesday the architect Klaus Philipsen posted a personal blog saying Young’s bill had been withdrawn. He cited an email from a different Young staffer:
“Council President Young, at the request of Councilman Costello, is withdrawing the Bill. The McKeldin family and most of the businesses support the demolition and the plan Downtown Partnership is proposing,” the blog said, quoting “ZOE MICHAL, Director of Special Events and Scheduling Office of City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.”
Davis said that wasn’t true.
The bill, introduced by Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young on July 20, says, “The City may not undertake, cause, or allow any modification to be made to McKeldin Plaza or any component of the Plaza until:
(1) the City Planning Commission has reviewed and approved final development plans, construction documents, and timetables for completion of each and every phase of the proposed modification; and
(2) the City Finance Director has certified that full funding for each and every phase of the proposed modification has been identified.”
Most councilmembers signed on as co-sponsors but Councilman Eric Costello (11th District) did not. He explained to fellow councilmembers during that meeting that the Downtown Partnership has promised to work with the city on the fountain plan. Costello’s speech prompted Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (14th District) to remove her name from the list of the bill’s sponsors. She said a longstanding tradition of City Council “courtesy” held that bills involving land disposition would not be introduced without the consent of the councilmember whose district the land was in.
The fate of McKeldin Fountain has become a cause célèbre in some circles. Both City Paper and The Baltimore Brew have run stories about the plan to demolish the fountain and attached plaza, which divides Light Street just west of the Inner Harbor, to widen the road there and relocate the park. The basic battle is an old one: on one side, traffic engineers concerned with flow, efficiency, and cars. On the other side, urbanist planners more concerned with pedestrians, scale, and accessibility. “Baltimore seems to be one of the last cities on earth to realize what Jane Jacobs was teaching over a half century ago – that superblocks only create super-sized empty spaces that dilute and discourage spontaneous activity,” Gerald Neily wrote in the Brew last year.
Philipsen agrees. “Young said . . . it’s public place and deserves a public debate and the council is the right place to have that debate,” Philipsen says. “It is a matter of democracy and representation . . . that is a point that I think has validity regardless of how people differ about the fountain."
Davis says Young is trying to set up a meeting with all interested parties.