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Parking project shouldn't be used to threaten the city

January 08, 2004

Does this sound familiar: A project is proposed which would benefit all the citizens of Washington County, a project which only requires that the two largest local governments agree to work together.

Sure, we'll be glad to, county officials say - as long as you do everything our way.

Apparently not satisfied after spending thousands of taxpayers' dollars fighting the City of Hagerstown's proposed annexation policy - for reasons they couldn't explain - the county commissioners now want to put a downtown revitalization project at risk with their "my way or else" attitude.

The project is a parking deck that would serve Hagerstown's Arts & Entertainment District and a half a block of buildings being renovated by developer Don Bowman.

Bowman will do two buildings without the deck, but if the deck is built, he will build a third structure to replace the now-demolished Double T tavern.

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The deck would not only serve Bowman's development, but would provide parking for patrons of the Maryland Theatre and students at the Hagerstown Education Center of the University System of Maryland.

No one doubts the deck will be well-used, but experience with the first deck has taught city officials that unless they pay a substantial amount of cash up front, parking fees won't cover the deck's debt service.

And so the city government has pledged $600,000 and has asked the county government to do the same.

Commissioners' President Greg Snook told the mayor and council that before the county kicks in any cash, it needs to discuss some "other issues" first.

"Are we going to see better cooperation?" asked Commissioner William Wivell.

Maybe they might, if the commissioners decided to do the right thing without linking it to some other issue. Remember that it was the city's desire to link annexation policy with a city/county sewer project that began the dispute that led to a city/county lawsuit.

The commissioners only won half a victory in that case, with the judge leaving the city policy intact in many areas of the county. Their loss came because they decided confrontation was a better path than seeking mediation.

The county commissioners should back this project now, with no strings attached, not because they would be giving into the city, but because it's the right thing to do.

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