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Delegate may ask state to fund university parking

July 28, 2000

Delegate may ask state to fund university parking



By JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer


Several state lawmakers said Friday they like a $4.4 million proposal for additional parking for a planned education center in downtown Hagerstown and think the governor should back it as well - with funding.

"I think it has a wonderful chance to become part of an entire (funding) package, a university package," said Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington.

Delegation Chairman Robert McKee said the parking proposal "makes that whole university center downtown a better project."

The delegation will meet Aug. 21 to decide whether to write a letter to the governor in support of the parking plan, said McKee, R-Washington.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Washington/Frederick, wasn't sure the delegation should wait that long since state officials are already working on next year's budget.

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Delegation members were interviewed at the Hagerstown Regional Airport, where they were presented with the parking proposal behind closed doors Friday morning by members of the Open Space Task Force and Greater Hagerstown Committee.

The proposal calls for demolishing six buildings to construct a 153-space parking lot and a park for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Center, which is to go in the Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street. Under the proposal, McCardell Alley would be converted into a pedestrian walkway and alleys would be widened.

Even with the proposed extra parking there will be inadequate parking downtown if the center offers day classes, Sen. Donald F. Munson said.

"The entire downtown will be competing for those parking spaces," said Munson, R-Washington.

Still, it's a step in the right direction, he said.

Munson said the state has "the responsibility and the obligation" to support the parking plan after state lawmakers passed a law stating how such regional education centers are to be established.

"As I understand the law, the state has to fully fund these things," Munson said.

Hecht urged a more cautious approach.

"I don't think we want to back anybody into a corner by saying you have to do this," Hecht said.

Del. Joseph Bartlett, R-Washington/Frederick, said the proposal is a good one whether or not there is adequate existing parking. The extra parking would either ensure adequate parking or provide room for overflow parking.

The parking combined with the park and pedestrian walkway would help attract students who might not otherwise attend a downtown campus, Bartlett said.

Del. Chris Shank said he wants to explore the issue further before deciding whether to support the parking proposal. Shank, R-Washington, said he wants to know if the extra parking is needed and whether the affected property owners are "willing sellers."

Jim Pierne, head of the task force, and Greater Hagerstown Committee Chairman Jim Latimer had requested the delegation's support in time for a September presentation they're planning for the governor, McKee said.

The governor's spokeswoman has said previously that a state analysis of downtown concluded there was enough parking for at least the first five years for the university, which is slated to open by fall 2003.

The governor hasn't seen the formal proposal for additional parking, officials said.

Shank said the delegation may have to "remind the governor that he made this the centerpiece of his Smart Growth proposal" and should make sure it succeeds.

Several delegation members asked why the media hadn't attended the one-hour meeting. A reporter with The Herald-Mail newspapers had been told the meeting was closed.

Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Washington/Frederick, was the only delegation member absent, but a representative from his office attended the meeting, McKee said.

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