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City looks to revitalize Fairgrounds Park area

August 17, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

gregs@herald-mail.com

It has been nearly 20 years since any significant public investment has been made in a neighborhood near Fairgrounds Park, and the area suffers from low homeownership levels and low property values, a city official told the City Council Tuesday.

During the city's work session, City Community Development Manager Larry Bayer was given permission to start developing plans to change the neighborhood.

Before the meeting, Bayer explained what the effort aims to accomplish.

"We want to make that area attractive to folks that are interested in buying homes and living there," Bayer said in a telephone interview.

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"It's been proven across the nation. (In) neighborhoods with higher rates of homeownership, property values increase" and costs to provide city services like fire and police protection decrease, Bayer said.

He said he aims for a neighborhood that "offers the amenities that people are looking for. It's safe. It's clean. It's family- and resident-friendly. ... People buy, they put down roots and you get to know your neighbors."

Bayer told the council that as efforts to revitalize downtown continue, he believes it is time to start looking at focusing efforts at neighborhoods just outside of downtown.

The neighborhood that is part of the proposal is bounded by East Washington Street, North Potomac Street, the railroad tracks along McComas Street, North Mulberry Street and Cannon Avenue.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean questioned the priority of that particular neighborhood over others, saying, "I would like to see something done for all the neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown area."

Bayer said he hopes more neighborhoods will be looked at in the future, but city resources limit the geographical reach of this project. He said he hopes this project can be used to develop a way that will work in other neighborhoods.

Bayer said the Fairgrounds Park neighborhood is ripe for this project for several reasons, including apparently low property values and a high renter-occupied rate.

According to information prepared for Tuesday's meeting, only 11 percent of homes in the neighborhood are owned by the people who live there. There are roughly 1,230 rental homes, and there is not enough parking.

Citywide, roughly 40 percent of homes are owner-occupied.

The council gave Bayer approval to look into developing better off-street parking for people in the area as part of the revitalization plan. Bayer said in the 200 block of North Locust street there are only 18 on-street parking spaces for 40 rental homes.

Bayer told the council that his office will start working with neighborhood groups to develop ideas and that he will return to the mayor and council once that phase is complete.

The plans could have some financial implications for the city, although that won't be determined until the plans further solidify, Bayer said. There is no money budgeted for this project.

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