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Zoning Phoning It In

September 18, 2009
By

The city’s powerful Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals raised eyebrows during its Sept. 15 meeting when it took the votes of its chairwoman, Michele Lipkowitz, via cell phone. Several observers, including City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th), wondered if the vote was legal.

“I’ve never seen that before and I am very concerned,” Clarke says. “They definitely don’t let me phone in my vote at the City Council. I’ve got to not only be in the room, I’ve got to be sitting in my chair for my vote to be counted.”

Joan Floyd, a neighborhood activist from Remington who often fights issues at the zoning board, says she thinks the board would need a specific state law to allow a phone-in vote. “I think it’s a huge thing,” she says. “If they’re on the phone, you don’t know if that person is sitting eating dinner with a lobbyist. You don’t know what’s going on.”

Floyd saw the board vote against her in a matter involving a restaurant on 29th Street. She says she may appeal the decision.

The board also voted-after deliberating “off the record”-to allow the expansion of Beans and Bread, a soup kitchen and homeless services center in Fells Point (“Beans and Bread and Circuses,” Mobtown Beat, April 29). Attorney Fred Lauer opposed the expansion on behalf of the Douglass Place Neighborhood Association.

“I was a little surprised that they did this call-in vote,” Lauer says. “I have in my 20-some years of practice of law never seen that before . . . in Maryland. So I was taken aback by it. I haven’t done any research yet as to what their regulations say, or what the law says.”

David Tanner, the board’s executive director, is on vacation and unreachable, according to a woman who answered the phone at the BMZA. Lipkowitz could not be reached for comment.

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