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Governor holds trump card on campus site

July 21, 1999

Nice little bombshell Gov. Parris "In the Springtime" Glendening dropped on the Prominent Classes in Hagerstown last week.

The governor mentioned in passing that the possibility of placing the University of Maryland branch campus in the downtown Baldwin House still appeals to him, despite the fact that local leaders want the classrooms to be built at Allegheny Energy's Friendship Technology Park off I-70.

The Prominent Classes are justifiably stressed by this turn of events. They must be wondering, why bother going to the time and trouble of packing a site-selection committee with like-minded people if the governor's just going to come in and trump you anyway?

Glendening likes the downtown location because it complies with "Smart Growth," the Glendening Administration's program to encourage development in existing urban areas and discourage rural and suburban sprawl.

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I see several hands raised. Yes, you in the back.

But doesn't the Allegheny Energy site conform to Smart Growth criteria, too?

Well, yes. But now we discover that some smart growth is smarter than other smart growth. I've always thought Smart Growth was basically an excuse the state could use for doing what it wants to do anyway, and lends credence to that position.

If it wanted, the state could have cooked up a reason under Smart Growth to put the branch campus in the attic of the Kammerer House.

And speaking of, how 'bout a nice round of applause for Merle Elliott and CHIEF, for destroying the house of one of Washington County's earliest settlers for, as it turns out, no good reason.

The story goes that Citicorp wanted to buy the Kammerer property from CHIEF, but on the condition that the Kammerer House be destroyed first.

Immediately that sounded fishy. Why did CHIEF have to do the demolition - the Citicorp empire, with all its hundreds of locations, thousands of workers and billions of dollars in assets, doesn't have the number of a good bulldozer man?

Whatever, CHIEF and Citicorp worked out a contract by which the house would be destroyed and Citicorp would buy the lot. So what happened? CHIEF destroyed the house and Citicorp decided it didn't want the lot after all.

In a way you have to feel for Merle. He has to be thinking, you can't swing a cat in Washington County without hitting a stone farmhouse, why this one? And if it were really so special, why weren't historians and the estimated 23.9 million direct descendants of Ludwig Kammerer clamoring to fix it up years ago? The house was built in the 1700s; it's not like it just got historic last March.

And of course he and CHIEF were instrumental in helping to bring Citicorp here in the first place, something I think most everyone in Washington County is grateful for.

But as a negotiator, this deal makes Elliott look like the Indian who got a set of pukka shells and a Swatch for Manhattan Island.

Citicorp, for its part, rather testily cited some vague change in corporate land-acquisition philosophy as the reason it no longer wanted the once hallowed, now hollowed ground.

Rings true to me. I can just picture some J.P. Morgan IV calling a meeting of the Citicorp board of directors and bellowing, "We are going to END this corporate policy of acquiring property that abuts current holdings and that may now or at one time have been home to a historic structure, particularly if it's in or around Western Maryland, and we are going to end this policy NOW."

Searching for a silver lining as I always do, there may be a lesson in this. If the Prominent Classes wish to ensure the University of Maryland campus is located at Allegheny Energy's business park, they need only do two things:

Form a blue ribbon task force called "Committee to Bring the Maryland Campus to Downtown Hagerstown." Then name as chairmen Merle Elliott and CHIEF.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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