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Council thinks inside the fence on strategy for former light plant

May 08, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

No lie, there have been Christmases that I've looked forward to with less gusto than I felt for the Hagerstown City Council's announcement regarding its plans for the dilapidated old City Light plant, which resembles an old Dresden munitions factory after an Allied bombing raid.

Last week, the council told us that they were on the brink of actually doing something about this East End eyesore. They had a plan, they said. Better, they had a "strategy." As a matter of fact, this strategy was so strategic that it had to be discussed in secret session.

But not to worry, the city was to have a major announcement on Tuesday, at which time its strategy would be announced. And true to its word, on Tuesday that strategy was unveiled:

They're going to build a fence around it.

Well, not just any fence, a chain link fence. With barbed wire on top.

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Wow. You can almost hear the brains of council members tick-tick-ticking as they cool off like a truck engine in the Wal-Mart parking lot, after that monumental effort. Problem solved. Yes, it will still be a monolithic, crumbling, weed-infested, broken-windowed rat dormitory, but now it will be a monolithic, crumbling, weed-infested, broken-windowed rat dormitory with a fence.

And it will keep the bums out. Gee whiz, first the city goes after bums sleeping on the benches outside the courthouse. Then it hits the bums sleeping in their cars. And now it goes after bums sleeping in the City Light plant. I don't know about you, but personally I'm about fed up with the council's anti-bum agenda. Where are they suppose to sleep, at a B&B - Bum and Breakfast?

I think we can all agree, there is nothing like a chain link fence and some barbed wire to dress up a decaying property, but still, I couldn't help but be a little let down.

A fence? That's it? That's the grand strategy, the one so sensitive that it had to be discussed in a closed session of City Hall? What, was a sign that says "Danger: Old Building" already taken?

Then the city, already drunk on its own sense of innovative thinking, went even further. The owner will have to pay for the fence.

Whoa, hold on there. A fence is radical enough on its own, I'm not sure you want to dive headlong into the waters of advanced finance. Of course, with the price of fencing, the owner will probably wind up paying more for the fence that he did for the entire building, for which he paid $250,000 a dozen years ago.

It kind of makes you wonder, though, is this option open to everyone? If your sidewalk has a crack in it or your property has an unattractive hedgerow, city inspectors are all over you. So from now on, is it OK just to build a fence around the offending feature?

Of course, maybe this whole fence deal is just a red herring to deflect attention from the city's real strategy. The owner gets all comfortable thinking that all the city is going to do is make him put up a fence when, wham, the council tells him he has to caulk the windows.

A fence. I was hoping at a minimum they would hold out for some nice curtains.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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