Forum held to discuss results of Smart Growth

October 21, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - Although policies designed to contain growth near urban areas appear to have helped increase property values and overall interest in Hagerstown, the same policies have worsened the outlook for area affordable housing, speakers at a forum said Wednesday evening.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner, Interfaith Housing Alliance President James Upchurch and Ken Braitman, a veterans advocate and former Frostburg State University administrator, spoke before about 15 people Wednesday at the Four Points Sheraton on Dual Highway.

The event was sponsored by the Central Maryland AFL-CIO Council and other affiliated organizations, and represents the organization's new efforts to branch out into community activities, said Donald Forcino, the labor council's president.


Breichner said the city has benefited from the Smart Growth policies that began under Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"We are seeing more interest in downtown Hagerstown" and outside city limits, Breichner said.

For instance, downtown buildings - even ones with leaky roofs - are selling rapidly and at high prices, both for speculation and for development.

Upchurch, whose organization is based in Frederick, Md., said some of those same policies have made it hard for some to afford housing.

Upchurch said when the state's Smart Growth policies were put in place, officials did not provide enough money to offset price inflation that would result from restricting the housing supply.

"We're in a big crisis in this region," Upchurch said.

During a question-and-answer session at the forum, Breichner also said he believes schools will suffer during the upcoming budget season, another reason he said he believes a fee on new homes would be necessary to help pay for new schools.

Braitman discussed veterans issues. He said one of the major problems for veterans is that their health and retirement benefits are not fixed in the budget, and can be slashed at the will of Congress.

"This election will make a difference for veterans," Braitman said.

An attendee said she enjoyed the forum.

Daris Phillips, 72, of Hagerstown said she learned about the event through a union group.

"It was educational. ... I would come back," Phillips said.

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