It’s the latest sign of the deteriorating relations between Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and the City Council he once headed:
The Board of Estimates today approved a contract to renovate the Druid Hill swimming pool despite the Council not granting permission for a controversial parking lot included in the plan.
Unable to persuade the spending board to defer the contract, City Council President Brandon M. Scott was the lone vote against the $10.1 million item.
Comptroller Joan Pratt acknowledged community concerns about the lack of transparency and the loss of green space, but in the end abstained.
Young and his appointees, City Solicitor Andre M. Davis and Acting Public Works Director Matthew Garbark, voted to approve construction of a new bath house and 79-space parking lot.
“The mayor is leapfrogging over us” – Councilman Ed Reisinger.
The board’s action was quickly denounced by the head of the committee that recessed last month without voting on the pool and parking lot. The deferral followed a public hearing on an ordinance required for the parking lot project.
“The mayor is leapfrogging over us. The administration is disrespecting the process, disrespecting the Council president, and disrespecting me and my committee,” said Ed Reisinger, chairman of the Land Use and Transportation Committee.
Reisinger also blasted Recreation and Parks officials who have been leading the project.
“They have a mindset that they don’t need to go to the community,” he said, pointing to an information session about the project that some residents called “insulting.”
“When they get their check that says they’re being paid by ‘Mayor and City Council,’ I think they just see the ‘Mayor’ part,” Reisinger fumed.
Today’s vote allows construction to begin on a new bath house and pool upgrades but not the parking lot, which still needs conditional-use approval from the Council to move forward.
Reisinger’s decision to hold off on the parking lot vote came after citizens questioned the idea of paving green space and encouraging more cars in the park. Nearby community groups said they were never briefed on the parking plan.
In the background of today’s conflict: an upcoming primary.
Despite today’s contract approval, the 10th District councilman said he would not resume committee deliberations on Bill 19-0423. “I’m going to keep it recessed. We wanted to hear that there was a letter or some indication of support from the community, and I haven’t received that.”
In the background of today’s conflict is election-year politics.
Scott and Young are both running for mayor in the Democratic Party primary in April.
Reisinger at first backed Young, but yesterday switched and announced his endorsement of Scott.
Rec Director Backs Parking
At today’s board meeting, Scott sought to defer action on the contract.
“I have slight confusion how it made it into the Board of Estimates agenda while it’s still in City Council committee,” he said.
Reginald Moore, director of Recreation and Parks, urged immediate action.
“Delaying this vote today delays the entire project, not just the parking lot,” he said. “The parking lot is a smaller component of this larger project.”
But Scott asked how that is possible given that the pool and the parking lot are part of the same contract.
Scott said the scope of work in the contract would have to change if the Council rejects the parking lot.
In that case, Moore said the contractor would have to renegotiate the contract, while the city would continue its dialogue with the community.
“The reality is having that parking lot is important,” Moore said.
Councilman Ryan Dorsey, a strong critic of the parking lot, warned on social media that today’s contract award could prompt litigation.
“The city could face a lawsuit over this. It’s bad gov operation,” he tweeted. “Altering the scope after awarding would likely give others who bid on the project good reason to say bid/award was unfair.”
Several area residents testified today in opposition to the parking lot and on behalf of deferral.
“Transit is the best solution,” said Graham Coreil-Allen, an artist and transit advocate who lives in Greater Mondawmin. “Save our greenspace by replacing the parking lot with a Druid Hill circulator [bus].”
Coreil-Allen said the pollution resulting from increased car traffic would worsen already-high rates of asthma in West Baltimore. He noted that two-lane residential streets around the park were widened in the 1950s and 1960s despite protests by the largely Jewish and black communities in the area.
He said the park used to be served by a free “shuttlebug.” Now the city operates the free Charm City Circulator, which serves downtown and much of the so-called “White L.”
Druid Hill Park, Auchenteroly Terrace and Mondawmin, he said, “deserve the same investment that downtown and other areas get.”
Phong Le, a Goucher College professor and president of the Greater Remington Improvement Association, said the city did not communicate well.
Rec and Parks’ most recent meeting about the pool and parking lot was on the same night as a long-scheduled GRIA forum for City Council candidates.
“I feel like we as a community were disrespected by never being contacted,” Le said.
Cheryl Bailey Solomon, who lives on Auchenteroly Terrace, also spoke against the lot. “We do struggle with just walking across the street,” she told the board.
A Voice in Favor
Sarah Hope, a Lauraville resident with a master’s degree in landscape architecture, said she supported the parking lot.
The former Rec and Parks employee, who worked at the department’s headquarters in Druid Hill Park, said she has used the park thousands of times. She said a parking lot would make it safer for cars and buses to unload kids going to the pool.
She added that, as a cyclist, she may not be making many friends in the cycling community with her testimony.