Last week in the comments, Marc asked about restrictions on small streets in Baltimore other than the solar panel regulations. We define small streets as streets less than 30 feet from building to building. If you live in the United States, you probably don’t have to look beyond your window to see that most of what we’ve built is much larger. Baltimore has many historic small streets that have survived well over 100 years, but would it be legal to reconstruct these small streets?
Let’s take a look at Baltimore, and use the example of this beautiful house for sale on South Chapel Street in the Upper Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore.
Small streets are usually lined with small rowhouses, so the first way that cities can make traditional small street form illegal is to set a minimum to how small your house’s lot can be. In Baltimore’s dense rowhouse neighborhoods, both the current and proposed zoning codes set a minimum of 750 square feet. This cute house’s lot measures 15’ by 50’, which is exactly 750 square feet. Test passed.
The next regulation that trips up small streets is minimum lot coverage, which says how much of the lot can be covered by the house versus a garden, patio, or yard. Baltimore’s current zoning says your small street house can only cover 60% of the lot. However, the proposed code says you can cover 80%. A look at the house from above shows it has been expanded over the years and now covers almost the entire lot. Test failed.
It’s not easy to find a house instead that passes the lot coverage test but fails the minimum lot size test. Take the example of this small house for sale near Patterson Park. It covers less than 80% of the lot, but its lot is only 600 square feet in size.
Neither of these houses could be built on an empty lot in Baltimore because they both violate the zoning code. We at Small Streets believe that the proposed zoning code for Baltimore is definitely an improvement. However, the fact that some of Baltimore’s historic small houses in successful neighborhoods do not fit the code tell us that perhaps it needs some additional tweaking.
OK, so that explains the houses. But what about the streets themselves? You cannot legally construct a new small street in Baltimore. The subdivision regulations enacted in January 2011 require that new lots front on a street at least 40 feet wide. If you hoped to construct a compact new neighborhood of small streets near transit on the brownfields at the proposed Canton Crossing station on the Red Line, you would need an exception.