On Creating the District and Legalizing Occupancy: Bob Levine Interview Excerpt
Oral History Item Type Metadata
AF: As far as city government is concerned, and the process of rezoning this building for live/work space, how did that get started?
BL: A lot of the spaces across the street in the Copy Cat Building, which was also part of Crown Cork and Seal, got occupied by fairly activist artists. One of them was David Crandall at the time. There was an entity that the state was creating called an arts and entertainment district. They created it with the idea that it was going to go to Highlandtown, where the Creative Alliance is. They tailored it right to them. And David Crandall initiated this procedure of, “Why should it go to them? It’s got to be competitive, so why don’t we compete for it?”
So Dennis Livingston and I and Al Zaruba and a whole bunch of other people—Jim Vose, some other people that are no longer in the area, Michael Johnson, who had a theater in sort of a funky building on North Avenue, and some people who weren’t active in it, but signed petitions, like Buzz Cusack, who owns the Charles Theatre—decided to make an effort to get that designation for ourselves. When it came up to the presentation, we made the presentation effective, a very dramatic presentation that we were actually the place that artists were living, so we should where the arts and entertainment district was. And so we actually got the first designated arts and entertainment district.
Once we became the arts and entertainment district, then it became clear to the City that the zoning department would have to make some way for the artists to actually live here legally, because when you broke it down, everybody who was living here was a squatter. So we worked with the zoning department. They were very cooperative and we had some help from the Mayor’s office in the form of Kirby Fowler. I’m not sure what he’s head of right now. I think it’s the Downtown Business Development District. I’m not positive what it is. [Note: Kirby Fowler is President of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Inc. and the Executive Director of the Downtown Management Authority.] But he’s a mover and shaker in this type of activity.
We met with the zoning department. It was kind of clear that all these buildings were zoned M-1, which is just for manufacturing. So nobody was actually legally allowed to live here. In Maryland, there is no live/work designation. Even office residential is not—you can’t live and work in the same place. So the way you get around it is you create what are called PUDs—Planned Unit Developments. And what a PUD is, it’s a City Council bill, where the City Council assesses an exemption from the normal zoning, and approves it or disapproves it. If they approve it, the PUD exists.
So a PUD, the Planned Unit Development, has to be made up of buildings that are contiguous to each other. So we had to enlist all of the buildings in the whole district in order to create this PUD. And essentially it allows us to do whatever we want to do, within reason. It’s specified, as long as we meet the housing, fire, and building codes. So we had to get approved by all of those. So once we did that, we got the inspectors in, and Kirby Fowler was very helpful in coordinating all of that. We were the first building that was approved, that got its occupancy permit.