How do we, as residents, engage the city’s bureaucracy to make democracy work for us? Local attorney Sharon Guida, who has been assisting Charles Village residents in understanding and working with the Zoning and Liquor boards of Baltimore City since 2008, explains how residents can stay informed and do something about issues that come up in Board meetings. In addition, Guida has more recently been working with housing compliance issues.
At GHCC’s 5th Annual Neighborhood Institute: Love Where You Live, Sharon will lead the workshop Advocating for Your Neighborhood, where she will discuss these issues and strategies for addressing them. Sharon had just a few minutes to chat about her workshop before zooming off to another Zoning Board meeting.
Would you tell us about your background?
I’ve been a resident of Charles Village since 1981, and I’ve been participating in the community association since 1990. I have a legal background which helps in reading the Zoning Code and the liquor laws.
Residents used to complain that things were happening at the Zoning hearings and the Liquor hearings and they weren’t participating in them. They were crying out for the Charles Village Civic Association to do something and represent the residents. So we at the Association started the Land Use Committee in 2008.
It’s been great. We’ve been swamped with cases. We have an agenda each month that is voluminous, between the Zoning Board cases and the Liquor Board cases. In addition, we are following vacant houses and troubleshooting with dilapidated houses. There is more than enough to do!
As you know, GHCC’s Neighborhood Institute is about helping residents learn ways to build and strengthen their own neighborhoods. How will your workshop help them to accomplish that?
I’m going to try to, in the time that I have, bring as much information to participants’ attention that I’ve been able to gather since 2008. I want to make it easier for other community associations and residents to become involved because it is quite of a maze, dealing with the interrelated and interacting departments of the State and the City. I’d like to give some tidbits of information to make it easy to participate.
I am going to show participants the websites that they need to see. I’ll give them contact information for the Department of Planning so that participants can receive the hearing notices. I will show community associations how to sign up for the hearing notices, who the right contact person for the Liquor Board, so they get on the Liquor Board hearing list, for instance.
If you don’t know when the hearings are then you are dependent on residents to tell you about the notices that they see on properties. Many times, the notices don’t go up, or they do go up on a property but then come down for some reason. We try to both: instruct residents how to tell the Association when they see a Zoning or Liquor Board issue and then we also depend on the City and the State Liquor Board to notify us.
[To be effective], you have to know the Zoning Code, and you have to know that both Boards are both pro-developer, pro-liquor licensee. If the community isn’t there to use the code in their favor, as written, then the community’s interest will be ignored, disregarded, and not considered.
Why did you choose to participate as a workshop leader in this year’s Neighborhood Institute?
I’m happy to help. I was asked to lead the workshop because as Chair of the Charles Village Land Use Committee I bring in as many other community associations as possible. Charles Village has a big boundary that touches Abell, Harwood, and Old Goucher. We impact Oakenshaw and Tuscany Canterbury, too. The Committee, calls more attention to how effective we can all be if we work together across boundaries and not segment ourselves. By reaching out and bringing in different organizations, it has brought greater attention to our efforts.
The worst thing we can do is to set up little organizations within big organizations. It dilutes your power, your effectiveness, and the message that downtown receives. We have to start getting smart and savvy about our place in the whole democracy puzzle. We have to play it effectively, not just whine and complain. We have to learn how it works and play our part.
And the City has been very receptive to that kind of effective organizing.
What are you hoping that your workshop participants will take away with them?
I hope that more residents will feel comfortable about becoming more involved in what the City is doing. learning that they have a voice and that they have a part in that system.