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Accountabilityby Fern Shen2:55 pmOct 18, 20210

Speeding the process, Mosby says Council will take final vote on billboard bill tonight

A bill creating a new downtown district for digital billboards was set for a preliminary vote tonight. But Council President Nick Mosby says he’ll call for a vote on final passage, too

Above: The proposed NoHa signage district in red. The 21 planned billboard locations are indicated in blue, chiefly on office buildings and hotels sited along Pratt and Lombard streets. (Downtown Partnership)

Today The Brew reported on complaints that a bill creating a new downtown digital billboard district has been racing through the legislative process without proper notice given to residents.

Bill 21-0118 will now be racing even faster.

The City Council will be asked at tonight’s meeting to cast not just a preliminary 2nd reader vote on the measure but a final 3rd reader vote.

“We’re going to double-read that tonight – please make sure you’re okay with that,” City Council President Nick Mosby said today at the Council’s luncheon pre-meeting.

Mosby’s announcement of the unusual procedural move – same-day advancement requires the Council to invoke Rule 12-1 – comes after a downtown residents’ group complained that its members, primarily renters, had been given little notice about the plan.

“We’re simply not prepared to say we’re okay with this,” Bill King, interim president of the Center City Residents’ Association protested, at a recent meeting of the Planning Commission.

Calling the proposal “a red-hot issue” that his group had been briefed on only days before, King had implored city leaders to pause consideration of the bill.
6 P.M. UPDATE: The bill received final City Council approval. By unanimous vote and with no discussion, the 15-member Council suspended the rules to allow 2nd and 3rd reader votes at the same meeting.

The measure was approved by unanimous voice vote on 2nd reader. For the third reader vote, Mosby had the clerk read each member’s name without pausing to let them say, “yea” or “nay.”  Afterwards, he congratulated the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Eric Costello.

“This bill is approved,” Mosby said. “Great job, Chairman Costello!”

Financial Agreement Withheld

Under the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore (DPOB) proposal, billboard restrictions would be relaxed to allow 21 electronic wall signs, each up to 1,800 square feet in size, on buildings at 14 locations.

Most would be clustered along Pratt and Lombard streets at the Inner Harbor.

DPOB President Shelonda Stokes describes the idea as an innovative approach to strengthening the city’s ailing downtown, declaring it an economic “game changer” that will bring  “energy, vibrancy and walkability” to the central business district.

Questions have been raised, however, about the impact of the lighted signs on the appearance and livability of the city’s downtown and the refusal of DPOB to release its financial agreement with unnamed “media companies” that would carry out the plan.

An attorney from Ballard Spahr, one of three lawyer-lobbyists hired by DPOB, told the Planning Commission that the Partnership is not required to release the agreement and that a review of its terms by the commission or another public body is “off the table.”

Mosby, Scott and Costello to Speak

Under its lead sponsor Councilman Eric Costello, Bill 21-0118 creates the boundaries of the new district for the signage. The bill was recommended by the administration of Mayor Brandon Scott.

Voting last week to advance the bill to the full Council (in addition to Costello) were Kristerfer Burnett, Ryan Dorsey, Danielle McCray, Robert Stokes and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer.

Tomorrow night, DPOB will hold an in-person annual meeting at One Charles Center Plaza.

The event will feature remarks from Mayor Scott, Council President Mosby and Councilman Costello as well as Shelonda Stokes and Dick Cass, president of the Baltimore Ravens.

Tickets sell for $100 for members and $175 for nonmembers.

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