From a colleague who attended the hearing:

The Outer Harbor Initiative community development hearing took place Thursday, May 23 at City Hall, in front of a full council chambers. The two-hour meeting was met with a mixed reception from city officials and ended with discussions to take the initiative back to affected communities to further refine the terms of the legislation.

Councilman William Cole (11th District) sponsored the resolution. He was joined by fellow councilmembers Warren Branch, Mary Pat Clarke, James Kraft and Bill Henry. Officials from the Housing Authority testified that they supported the initiative’s goals, although had some reservations about the way the legislation in its current form might be implemented. The strongest opposition to the initiative came from Andrew Kleine, Chief of the Bureau of the Budget & Management Research, who testified that the city’s Finance Department could not justify the funding of a new initiative while other city programs were being cut in a slumping economy. Councilmembers Kraft and Henry also expressed strong concerns about how the initiative would be funded.

Mike Mitchell, director of Chesapeake Habitat for Habitat for Humanity, argued for the urgent need to take aggressive action on the 30 thousand abandoned properties in the city. He cited the success of the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor, suggesting that the same success could spread to neglected neighborhoods if the city had the resources to pursue speculators who are sitting on neglected housing stock.  In response to concerns about funding the initiative, Mitchell argued that the city would reap returns on its investment in the form of increased property tax receipts. Mitchell helped draft the Outer Harbor resolution and has been organizing supporters.

14 speakers were on hand in favor of the initiative, although not all were able to talk due to time contraints. They included a Habitat for Humanity homeowner who spoke of the benefits of homeownership, a local marketing expert who spoke about the effectiveness of promoting emerging neighborhoods via the internet, and a neighborhood activist who talked about ongoing efforts to revitalize the district around Patterson Park.

There were other questions about the initiative:  The suggested use of Tax Increment Financing for redevelopment efforts raised concerns. Councilmember Clarke repeatedly expressed worries about the intitiative interfering with community development block grant process, raising questions about a redevelopment she is supporting on Dumbarton Avenue in Pen Lucy. A number of questions were asked about which communities would be served by the initiative and how they would be identified. Councilmember Henry suggested that the name “Outer Harbor” was too restrictive, and should be changed to something more inclusive for neighborhoods across the city. Mitchell ended the hearing by calling for a broader array of neighborhood meetings to continue to discuss and refine the provisions of the proposal, using City Council and community feedback.

Updates on the initiative will be available at http://www.outerharborinitiative.com