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January 28, 2013

Perhaps a Blight Solution Part 2

Jill King

In my previous column, published on two weeks ago, the topic of blighted properties in Frederick City and Sen. Ron Young proposals in the State Senate to help correct the problem were discussed.


Feedback from that piece has led me to explanations of gentrification and manners in which blight should and could be handled, now that we know that symptom solving without looking at the root is Frederick City's biggest problem.


Gentrification happens when low income areas are pushed into outlying areas of a city, while striving to enrich the downtown areas. Most times, young professionals come to the city and look to remove areas which to them are deemed hideous. Vibrant cities are the goal and final desire.


When this happens, empty buildings and warehouses are torn down. Regulations and the need for higher-end landlords and tenants increase, many are not local workers or owners, but those who can be trusted to maintain the property at the higher level desired.


An intricate web is formed when property rights are defined by communities, not by law, but by a movement to pick and choose who should open a business and keep their once affordable home.


"Can Frederick City both deteriorate and be in the process of gentrification” is a major question.


Under the current manner in which blight is handled, yes, it can be. In Frederick City, regulation from two entities at the city level can hinder a local person from leasing or purchasing a building, making affordable improvements, and successfully creating more employment for downtown dwellers.


Those who have lived and worked in Frederick City for generations have now found that there are fewer choices in low-end employment, have difficulty finding local laborer positions, and – with increased "vibrancy" – their properties have risen to a value level that assessments create a tax they can no longer afford. Many of these homes have been sold at tax sales to limited liability corporations, or to out-of-town investors, some of whom have contributed to the circumstances we now find ourselves in.


An elderly friend, who lives in Frederick’s Historic District, would like to make improvements to the exterior of their home, some which could be viewed as dangerous or a public nuisance, but since he has to get approval from the Historic Preservation Commission by following their rigid rules, they go without restoration. His monetary resources are low; the rules require specific material, and he faces a whole new set of rules, if blighted properties become a focus.


He has watched as a neighbor put up vinyl siding on the back exterior, unbeknownst to the HPC and refuses to report it due to the fact he is old school and believes in property rights. He also believes that is none of his business, nor the city’s.


He wishes to make these improvements to a home which has been in his family for generations, but of his own free will and without the unnecessary expenses of permitting, special products, and interference. In fact, these are reasons he has not updated his home.


He knows one day he will have to will this property to an extended family member, and it will more than likely be sold and upgraded, causing an increase in values of others in the neighborhood, a neighborhood which is currently affordable for those who choose to live downtown.


Blighted properties sometimes cause a decline in business use, especially when there are few on that block. But there are instances when owner-occupied homes become blighted because the two bureaucracies within the city government impede them from performing affordable updates.


Gentrification can be seen by the manner in which the last Board of Aldermen was elected. Bicycle lanes are being placed throughout the city, yet mixed use areas and gentrification may increase downtown workers travel time.


Parking issues have always been a concern, yet the city builds more parking decks.


Interestingly enough Smart Growth is a huge push for the State of Maryland, yet smart must come with creating jobs which reflect on the stature of the residents in the downtown area. If more sidewalks or bike paths are to share the roads, less travel by motorized vehicles is needed. This can only be created by actually understanding Smart Growth, affordable amenities in the downtown area, and more mixed use communities.


Many of the landmarks which are now vacant are potential blight issues that the city would like to correct. The old State Police Barracks and what was known to many of us as Carmack Jays are on the notable list. It seems that there was a potential lessee, for 331 N. Market Street and potentially others, but the old cliché comes to mind: "You can't fight City Hall."


So, what was the hold up here? The answer: regulations and the lack of effort in accommodating a potential new business.


Although some feel comfortable with creating more rules and regulations, there is a process already in place, and, as it seems those in non-compliance could file a lawsuit and even go into receivership, without creating an Ad Hoc advisory committee or asking for state intervention.


Purposely allowing a building to deteriorate happens for two basic reasons. The owner wants the property torn down, or they can no longer afford the upkeep of their older home or business.


Some may ask for careful measures when accomplishing the task, but sitting still and allowing further deterioration to happen is negligence by those enforcing the rules and the City of Frederick's elected officials.


This is all about processes and improvements to stimulate growth, not push them westward and northward. Mixed use areas are Smart Growth.


It is no wonder the people on the Golden Mile feel neglected. The only vibrancy the city worries about on the Route 40 West area is improvements to the Fredericktowne Mall and the building of new homes, and a school. They are now looking to satisfy a minority of the residents by the placement of an indoor pool at a new Frederick High School. The plan for this is shared use by those who use any new school pool and those residents who are to use this amenity from other areas.


retraining my brain for the future, conferring with the past....


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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