Friday, March 11, 2011

Citizens Of Pigtown Meeting - 3/8/2011

Bath House - Image Credit

I have FINALLY gone to a Citizens of Pigtown (COP - not to be confused with Citizens On Patrol) meeting!  I walked up to 900 Washington Blvd, also known as the Bath House, as seen above.  I walked around the right side of the building, to find the side door propped open.  This was it!
Bath House Layout

In this image you can see the basement plan where the meeting took place, in what was the public laundry.  The layout is a little different now, but you get the idea.  I was running a little late, so I quickly sat myself down in the nearest available chair.  Looking around the room, I was very impressed by the demographics.  There were about 30 people with a fair showing of diversity, both age and race.  

Officer Milburn spoke first about the area's crime report. 
He went down the list of recent arrests and activity in the area.  I won't list them now.  I just don't want to get them wrong.  I was jotting everything down rather quickly.  Hopefully down the line, I can start a regular posting about the month's crime report.  A resident brought up issues with Jiggs, after they've opened up their second floor to customers.  Questions arose asking aloud if Jiggs has the permissions to open the upstairs for business.  Officers will try to keep an eye on things, being sure that activity and noise stays civil.

Nick from Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) spoke next about property being bought for development.
There were requests for proposal (RFPs) on the 700 block and 900 block of Washington Blvd.  Profit Gold LLC bought the property on the 700 block (someone please remind me which building).  At the 900 block, there was a buyer, but he has since fallen through.  From what I hear, this is the 3rd time that group (925-927 I believe) has gone up for an RFP, only to fall through.  What's going on, developer people?  A friend of mine, who knew nothing about Pigtown except that I live there, asked me about the area.  She told me that developers were unsure, due to Pigtown's reputation.  It's understandable.  I did my best to tell her about all the good things Pigtown community groups do, and how the buildings are practically across the street from Rodney's sculpture garden.  She was really impressed, and hoped to pass the information along.  I think Pigtown still needs to make a good sales pitch to get people in, but hopefully someone will see the value of these buildings soon.  One problem discussed in the meeting was people living in the units.  Someone is going out there periodically to clear them out though.  Unfortunately, BDC doesn't have the funds at this time to tear the buildings down.  A community developer (someone please remind me of his name) offered to potentially buy the property and use his own money to tear the properties down.

Nina spoke about her, and her husband Michael's, hopes to open a Lindy Hop studio in the church in the 800 block of Washington Blvd, with their group Charm City Swing.
Nina seemed like an absolute sweetheart with a good sense of wit based on her presentation at the meeting.  They've been renting spaces in the past for their swing dance group, but they're looking for a permanent place to call home for their business.  She admits that the group tends to attract polite engineer types, eager to volunteer their efforts to the community or group's needs if it means avoiding a $5 cover charge to Friday dance events.  Nina and Michael are excited about the space because of the church's beauty and opportunity to have a large, column-free space to dance, something that is rare in the city.  Considering that the Bath House's own meeting room has a column right dab in the middle, I think we can sympathize.  Charm City Swing is a well-established group, 6 years in business, compared to most start-ups that come to Pigtown, so there's already a large following of people.  In the future, they hope to offer maybe tango, modern dance,  burlesque, and other dance classes.   I absolutely love that Nina brought up the area's diversity as an asset.  She explained that the history of Lindy Hop is rooted in Black culture, and hopes to get more diversity into the mostly white group.  They expressed their wish to be considered a part of the community, happy to address any and all concerns, and move forward with Pigtown's full support.  This sort of use has only ever been a success in other communities, and Nina hopes that we will all love it.
Issues brought up at the meeting include parking, zoning, sound, handi-cap access, public transportation, bike parking, and any sentimental history the church holds to residents.  They've already met with B&O to discuss leasing their parking lot for large events that can easily attract 200 people.  Sound proofing has been thought through, insulating the building in a way that does not hurt or hide the historic building features, such as the stain glass windows.    A ramp can easily be built for handi-cap access over the couple front steps, but there wasn't much confidence for the steps to the back auditorium.  Many of the swing group's members take public transportation to get to events, so there's some concern for transit volume, and what can be done to alleviate it.  The Circulator stop nearby certainly don't hurt (yay free transit!).  Bike racks can be requested from the city.  If you want to check out the group, they will be at Clipper Mill today, Friday March 10th for their weekly dance event.
For the most part, their activities will be after normal business hours, so the space will be available for other uses.  Don't worry, it's not a club in disguise, there will be little to no drinking.  During typical business hours, the space can be available to non-profits.  They may pair with a non-profit in general to help with zoning, which may not be easily worked around.  The building is currently zoned R-8, which would only allow for apartment units, another church, or a non-profit organization.  Potentially... we'll find out... the fastest way to occupy the space may be to either become a non-profit, or pair with another non-profit.  Charm City Swing's ideal start date is June 24, but if things don't work as planned (and if life has taught us anything, it's that nothing goes as planned) Nina isn't quickly running to another venue.  She has her heart set on this one for now, and will work with it as much as possible.  The concern is that without non-profit backup, the zoning paperwork can take a minimum of 6-9 months.  An October or November start date isn't ideal, because... well... gorgeous summer weather is just more appealing to most activities.
I hope to write a letter of approval for the building use, in case it is any help to their cause.  If anyone posts one before I do, please let me know so we can create a form for others to submit.  Lets face it, we're all strapped for time!

Brett Fleckinger, from Zoning, talked about local issues.
He talked about some of the issues with Charm City Swing's zoning problems.  Other than that, he discussed the opportunity for a name change, which I personally find awesome.  I'm not a fan of having the longest neighborhood name in all of Baltimore.  Washington Village will hopefully be no more, as we all know the name is Pigtown.  It's not derogatory, it's historic.  Let's celebrate that, and let visitors know why.  All Brett needs is a letter of request, and to run it by the community, which we are in the process of doing.  He was really their to bring up the revised zoning code

Francine, COP President, went on to discuss neighborhood maintenance.
Baltimore Green Space works to protect community gardens, pocket parks, and other open spaces created and cared for by city residents.  If you currently care for a vacant lot, or would like to without your efforts being destroyed in the future, contact so the lot can be registered with the city, and added to the city's green space.   Also, free seeds. anyone?

PNC Neighborhood Grant Program:
For grant funding up to $10,000, the park should have some sort of mural, decorative element or artistic piece.  For your grant budget, consider money for a celebration/press release, and $500 for Neighborhood Design Center services.  All money will not be upfront (only about 10%), so be prepared to save receipts for future reimbursement.  Application deadline is Apr 8, and construction time line should be completed by November 2011.  More than one project can be in the grant proposal, just contact for more info.

Pigtown Main Street will be having a meeting, April 11 at 7pm (location to be determined)
They are searching for ideas from the community about what we would like, or not like, to see happen on Washington Blvd.  One resident brought up the "gateway", as it's called locally.  This area, which includes Dollar General, an open parking lot, and other small stores like Tony's Grill, frequently has problems with trash & illicit activity.  The concern is that for visitors, it leaves a first impression that residents don't feel confident about.  It's the first thing visitors see, coming off of 95 onto Martin Luther King Boulevard.  Everything is a work in progress here.  There have been some great successes in Pigtown, and hopefully many more to come.  Come out, and be a part of the discussion for a great future!

One resident brought up Baltimore's alley gating & greening program.
Francine, always at the ready, had a brochure handy.  Pigtown has one gated block, which was completed about 4 years ago.  The program works by giving each resident sharing the alley a key for convenient access.  Trash and recycling pick up function just the same, the city's workers having the means to unlock the gates.  In future meetings, we will try to get a spokesperson from another of the city's alley projects to come and speak about their experience.  Maybe we can tackle more than one block at a time, somewhat streamlining the process for interested home owners.

Also a question arose about the availability to request city trashcans.
Please contact to request a trashcan for any specific intersection.  However, a common problem that was noted is residents dumping their home trash at these locations.  Please keep an eye on this, and call 311.  Granted, in my own experience, 311 hasn't come out to take photos of a messy neighbor until a few weeks after the caring new tenant moved in and cleaned up the mess for themselves.  Just try to keep on top of requests by jotting down the confirmation number in a notebook.

Other notable events coming up are:
April 1, Citizens of Pigtown Happy Hour
April 12 7pm, next Citizens of Pigtown Monthly Meeting w/ Membership Drive, Memberships are $10 and are tax deductible!
April 16, Mayor's clean up day

Try to grab a neighbor for our next meeting on April 12th at 7pm!

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