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Council members reflect on vision for the future

December 06, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Questions surrounding the possible annexation of the Doub Farm property near Interstate 70 and U.S. 40 led Hagerstown City Councilwoman Ashley Haywood to allude to her economic vision for Hagerstown during last week's meeting.

Haywood's vision does not include what the councilwoman referred to as "big box stores" within city limits.

During that meeting, Haywood expressed the opinion that the concept of a retail development is "contrary to our economic vision" and said she would not support further big-box development within city limits.

In an interview Friday, Haywood said her views regarding development are tied to her experience as a downtown business owner. She owns Skyline Coffee Co. on Public Square and also runs a catering business.

"That's the platform I ran on, that's why people elected me. I was a small-business owner," she said.

Local businesses reinvest in the local economy, and when a city reaches a critical mass of such businesses, there is a cyclical effect, Haywood said.

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The councilwoman used her own situation as an example. When she profits from her business, she might buy a house or car locally. She also puts those profits in a local bank branch and makes other purchases locally.

When people buy from large national corporations, the profits return to the corporation's headquarters, she said.

Haywood said she understands there are a number of issues tied to development and that her colleagues are concerned about a number of them.

"I do recognize a regional shopping center would bring in tax revenue," Haywood said.

But citizens nominated her -- Haywood is not affiliated with a political party and had to gather 250 signatures on a petition to qualify to run in the general election -- because she is a small business owner and has ideals, Haywood said.

"I am going to continue to be that person," she said.

Two of Haywood's council colleagues believe development will occur whether or not the city is involved.

"I think the key thing is that if the city doesn't participate in the urban growth area and growth at the edge of the city, the county will," said City Councilman Martin Brubaker. The city will not get any revenues, but will get the negative impacts of those areas," he said Friday.

While Brubaker stressed there is "no official economic vision," he wants the city to have sufficient revenue to operate public services and public functions.

Hagerstown City Councilman William Breichner echoed Brubaker's concerns, and specifically addressed the issue of possibly annexing the Doub Farm.

"If we don't require annexation, we still have that commitment to serve those areas within the growth area with water and sewer," he said.

Not annexing doesn't benefit the city in regard to its tax base.

Major improvements to downtown are needed, and that money comes from the city's tax base, Breichner said.

"Adding areas like Doub Farm to the base is important to us," he said.

By annexing, the city would also have some control over potential development, Breichner said.

But such development goes hand in hand with downtown improvements. Breichner would like to see people with medium income levels moving into that area, he said.

Brubaker would also like to attract more retail and service businesses to the downtown area, he said.

The trick is "getting people back in the habit of coming downtown, looking for things downtown," he said.

Parking is also perceived as an issue, although Brubaker said he doesn't believe parking in a large lot is any more convenient.

That's why the city is focusing so much on the Arts and Entertainment District. When there are activities happening, people will visit downtown, Brubaker said.

In regard to the Doub Farm property, it's in what's been designated for decades as an urban growth area, the councilman said.

"It's not like we're going out into new, unplanned areas," he said. "It's not like what we do is what's causing growth. It will happen anyhow."

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