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Developing community

Professionals volunteer time to develop revitalization plan for 25 acres downtown

Professionals volunteer time to develop revitalization plan for 25 acres downtown

November 05, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

HAGERSTOWN - It's an area that is home to slinking cats, weed-filled lots, parked truck trailers, abandoned buildings, public housing, industrial businesses and houses - many of which have been converted into apartments.

Potential is an intangible that some also see in the area.

This week a group of professionals - a professor of planning and architecture, an economic development specialist, a sustainable urban design specialist, a landscape architect, a downtown development and revitalization consultant, and a historic preservation specialist - will be in Hagerstown, studying a roughly 25-acre area bordered by Potomac Street, Summit Avenue, Baltimore Street and a small creek often called Marsh Run, said Sharon Disque, executive director of the Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership.

The professionals' time is being donated, and the study is being paid for by a grant from The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Center for Communities by Design. It will provide up to $15,000, and Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership will contribute another $5,000.

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Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership is a nonprofit organization that operates Home Store, which offers homeownership and counseling services to home buyers.

On Monday from 9:45 a.m. to noon, members of the group will tour Hagerstown and the area to be studied. That area includes older industrial buildings, some buildings that are deteriorating and brownfield areas that could have contamination problems, Disque said.

The professionals coming in will work together to come up with design solutions - a type of session referred to as a charrette, Disque said.

"We think we're going to see a lot of brainstorming," she said. "It really is fun. It's generally the kind of setting where there are no bad ideas."

Tipping the economic scale

One goal is to tie the area to downtown, given that it only is a short distance from Public Square at Washington and Potomac streets.

"(We) hope to tip the economic scale in downtown," Disque said.

Determining how to integrate the area to nearby City Park also is an aspect of the project, she said.

The team leader for the project is Robert Shibley, director of The Urban Design Project at the University at Buffalo in New York. He also is a professor in the university's planning and architecture departments.

Shibley previously visited Hagerstown.

"I left quite excited about the project," he said. "You've got a downtown that wants to be terrific."

A vibrant mixed-use development that is well-landscaped, pedestrian-friendly and respectful of the culture and people who live there could bring in-city living in the study area to a higher level, Shibley said.

Architecturally, he said there is "a great stock" of buildings of interest on the western edge of the area.

Because community input is important, open meetings about the project will be held.

The first is scheduled for Monday from 7 to 9 p.m., with another planned for Tuesday from 3 to 5 p.m. A presentation about the project will be given Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

All of those meetings will be held at the Washington County Arts Council at 14 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown.

A marketable plan

Disque said she hopes the group's work will lead to a multifaceted plan that is design-oriented and marketable. Migrating from industrial to mixed use as business and residential is likely, Disque said.

"What we're not looking at doing is bumping people off their land," Disque said, adding that many of the houses are rented.

"We would expect that what's there would remain" as is, she said.

That was a concern of one resident of the area.

"Whatever floats their boat, as long as they don't try to mess with this neighborhood," said Doug Harris, who lives on Sycamore Street. "As long as they don't try to take any of these houses, we won't care."

Harris, who had not yet heard of the project, said that some houses in the quiet neighborhood are owned, while others are used as rental units.

Hagerstown was the only town in Maryland to receive an AIA grant. The other recipients were New Orleans; Syracuse, N.Y.; Longview, Wash.; Guemes Island, Wash.; Lawrence, Kan.; Northeast, Mich.; and Northern, Nev.

After members of the group leave Hagerstown, consultations will be offered, typically by phone or e-mail. A conference call will be held six months after delivery of the assessment report to review what progress has been made.

Finally, a one-day follow-up evaluation visit will be held a year after the group's report is delivered. That report will highlight strengths and weaknesses of the community with regard to sustainability, along with the opportunities and obstacles to change, according to an AIA press release.




If you go



What: Open house meetings to discuss a revitalization project planned for the area around Lee and Sycamore streets in Hagerstown

When: Monday, 7 to 9 p.m., and Tuesday, 3 to 5 p.m. A presentation will be given Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Washington County Arts Council, 14 W. Washington St., Hagerstown

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