Wallace McClure - What it takes to make city tick

December 12, 2011|By J. WALLACE McCLURE

In response to some concerns that were printed in this newspaper about disappointments in the success of downtown Hagerstown, I would like to respond with some food for thought. It was basically implied that the problem with downtown lies in the fact that shopping opportunities and small business success continues to decline. As a former councilman with first-hand knowledge of what makes the city tick, as well as first-hand knowledge as a former downtown merchant for nine years, I would like to offer the following points for consideration as constructive criticism to be used by anyone in any manner that they would like.

1. Residents. If the powers that be want a vital downtown core, all residential housing must be eliminated by clearly defining the boundaries of the core and establishing it as appropriate for business, professional offices, and government purposes. If you don't believe this, answer these next two questions. Do people live at the mall? Do people live at the Centre for Hagerstown? No.

2. Traffic clash. A major east/west highway runs right through the middle of downtown as well as a main southern route. Those trying to rush through town create too much pressure on those who want to drive downtown to shop, look for the store they want to go to, and, heaven forbid try to parallel park.

3. Pay to park. Eliminate residents who tie up parking spots, designate employee parking in certain restricted areas just like shopping centers do, and suddenly there will be adequate free parking. Believe it or not, putting money in parking meters is not done to make the city money because it doesn't. What it attempts to do is keep residents from parking in those spots all day, thereby eliminating the potential for anyone to come downtown and find a close by, convenient place to park and go shopping. And even if you don't mind paying for the meter, there's too much worry that you'll get tied up beyond the two-hour limit and you'll get a huge parking ticket which further punishes you for coming downtown in the first place.

4. When are the stores open? No one knows because all of them have different hours. Set up a store in a mall and you will be open certain hours of every day, all week, seven days/week. Downtown, some stores are open in the morning, some in the afternoon, hardly any after 5 p.m. for evening shopping when most working people can shop, some closed Tuesday, some closed Wednesday, who knows?

5. No restrooms. Most stores have an "employee only" restroom. What if a family gets downtown and a child becomes ill or someone needs to use a bathroom? Sorry, out of luck.

6. City and county zoning changes. Because zoning law means absolutely nothing due to the constant appeal process, existing zoning changes allow development to keep moving away from the city's center, taking away more and more land that should be strictly held for agricultural purposes, thereby leaving more and more vacant buildings in the trail of construction. Denying this out of control growth for "fad shopping centers" that keep slicing the pie of supportive buyers would concentrate developers' efforts at urban renewal closer to the city's center instead of contributing to urban sprawl. I have to wonder if those in political office locally ever see the ever increasing number of vacant stores that I do.

7. Double taxation on real estate. Even if a store chain wanted to put one of their new brick and mortar stores "in town" do you really think they want to pay double property taxes? No way, so they appeal the zoning to get the city water and sewer and then build outside the city limits.

J. Wallace McClure is a former Hagerstown council member.

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