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Letters to the Editor

June 23, 1999

Project isn't European, it's an end-run around zoning

To the editor:

Before Councilman Al Boyer brings about the first Americanized version of a European neighborhood to the east side of Hagerstown, there should be some discussion. Why does he think he needs to go out and pull the country into the city? That is not European. That is a tail run around county zoning.

Having just gotten back from Italy, I will concede to the councilman that there is very little urban sprawl. The current $5 a gallon for gas would discourage all but the very wealthy from taking residence in the country. Most of the cars are rather ugly and built to carry the driver and perhaps one passenger. Because these cities were built hundreds of years before the invention of the car, there is little room for parking and cars are parked on the sidewalks.

Italian cities have street after street lined with "Mom and Pop" stores. These stores are very small and contain just enough merchandise to give that family a satisfactory income. Therefore, the people don't have to drive outside their community to work. This European style is not possible in Hagerstown where people drive to Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia or D.C., to work, and choose to shop Wal-Mart instead of small businesses owned by local citizens. I can understand one's desire for a return to a more simple style, where wealth is contained by the locals rather than mass conglomerates but once the genie is out of the bag, adding acreage to Hagerstown isn't going to change lifestyles in America.

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We must keep in mind that there is a whole cultural difference to consider here and the proximity to one's neighbors is more complex than this format permits. I will touch upon just one point. Italian people of all socioeconomic classes are content to rent apartments. We were told that even the upscale apartments are too small to entertain guests and that socializing is done outside the home. Towns contain large tracts of free space called "Squares," where people come to congregate and "to see and be seen." In America we see signs, "No Loafing."

Councilman Boyer said that these people would be able to walk to the store. Does the city plan to put sidewalks in this development? Who will maintain them? Or will people walk in the street, joined by children playing in the street?

Perhaps one day Councilman Boyer could plan his own futuristic city (like Roosevelt's creation of Greenbelt, Md.). As for now, it would be more helpful to the residents of Hagerstown if he spent his energy bringing those grocery stores of 30 years ago, back to downtown Hagerstown instead of an AC&T to Brightwood Acres.

One of the hardest things for me to understand is why the city wants more responsibility when they can't even sweep the streets they have now.

Joan Powell

Hagerstown

System works - for lawyers

To the editor:

This has got to be a joke! A family gets awarded $581 million because they paid too much for their satellite dishes, and their lawyer says, "the system is working now better than ever." Better for him, maybe. We all should wonder what percent of that award he is making in fees.

But the system is not working so well for the rest of us. When juries arbitrarily give away hundreds of millions of dollars, each one of us pays the price. The add-ons to cover large awards and legal defense hits consumers everywhere, even here in Hagerstown, from in-state or out-of-state cases. And, "jackpot justice" guarantees an appeal, as the company will in this case, tying up the courts and juries even longer than most jurors care to serve.

In this case, a jury in Alabama awarded a family of three $975,000 in compensatory damages and $581 million in punitive damages because they were allegedly overcharged approximately $1,200 on loans for two satellite dishes valued at $1,100 each. Just how does a $1,200 loss equal a $581 million gain? It doesn't make any sense.

The company that financed the loans may in fact have done wrong and deceived its customers. If that is true, everyone would agree that the customers deserve to be compensated for their losses. But, what is the justification for such an outrageous verdict? Excessive and unsubstantiated punitive damage awards eliminate balance from our civil justice system.

No wonder our legal system is considered a lottery these days. Take a chance and you might just come up a winner - a multi-million-dollar winner. Never mind that the rest of us, in addition to the company paying out the millions, are losing. Is this justice? The costs of lawsuit abuse are passed on to each of us. Every day, we spend more on all sorts of products and services as a result of the abuse of our legal system.

While $581 million may make a select few feel as though the system is "working now better than ever," the rest of us are left with the bill, wondering what price we'll be paying for this lawyer's next jackpot.

Linda C. Irvin-Craig

Executive Director

Western Md. Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

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