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Meeting on stadium proposal draws concerns about parking, public input

May 20, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Several people expressed concerns about plans for a multiuse facility in downtown Hagerstown, the lack of a public hearing about the proposed facility and the effect on parking for St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church during a meeting at the church’s campus Sunday.

James Kercheval and Tim Henry, who serve on a City of Hagerstown committee that has assisted in studying the possibility of a downtown multiuse facility, presented information to about 50 people during a Sunday afternoon meeting that lasted about 90 minutes. The facility could host the Hagerstown Suns, a Single A minor league baseball affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

While Kercheval presented a slide show about the project and talked about it, people occasionally asked questions. Kercheval and Henry tried to steer the focus of the meeting back to the slide show, but several attendees were more interested in hearing why Municipal Stadium wasn’t going to be renovated instead and why the new facility was proposed to be built at a site off Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

Plans for the proposed multiuse facility were expected to stay west of the alley that runs behind the church’s parking lot, Kercheval told the group.

Parishioner Lynn Meyers said unless the church puts a gate and fences around its parking lot, people going to a game at the facility would park in the church lot.

Parishioner and local businesswoman Suzanne Hayes said the church might have to make sacrifices, but the project could add to the private side of the tax base and suggested people look at what good the project could do the church. Church officials probably want to negotiate with the city about access to the parking lots and could possibly have church members use cards to be able to park.

At that point, a man on the other side of the room yelled out repeatedly, “gimme a break.”

Sally Hatch, a former St. John’s parishioner who lives on Jefferson Boulevard, said she was concerned that “outsiders,” Kercheval and Henry, were giving the presentation and not elected officials.

Hatch also expressed concern that the church had not been approached about environmental concerns since a stream runs under church property.

“There’s all kinds of things we could run into that could stop (the project),” Henry said.

“I think that at some time there should be a public hearing,” parishioner Janet Ernst said.

Penny Nigh, a former Hagerstown councilwoman running for re-election, told attendees that the monthly City Council meeting that provides citizens an opportunity to comment is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. Nigh suggested that people concerned about the lack of a public hearing note that concern during the citizen comment period at the meeting at City Hall.

Kercheval said the proposed stadium site could tie together redevelopment efforts downtown and a Marsh Run development idea that was recommended by a group of architects who visit areas around the country and, as an exercise, look at areas for redevelopment. The Marsh Run plan had not received an endorsement from the city, but  Kercheval, who is executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, mentioned it at least a few times Sunday.

The idea is to redevelop the Marsh Run area to have a walking area and retail, Kercheval said. He compared it to the Carroll Creek area in Frederick County, Md. The alley between the church and the car wash could, in the future, be part of a walking path from the Marsh Run area, by the proposed multiuse facility, to the downtown area, he said.

“There are people opposed to the (multiuse facility) site who are not opposed to the stadium,” parishioner Bob Sweeney said.

But, without a master plan, officials are wasting taxpayers’ money, Sweeney said.

Hagerstown goes downhill as officials “throw things against the wall and see what sticks,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said at one time, the University System at Maryland at Hagerstown was going to be the city’s savior and now people are saying the stadium project is the savior.

“Look at the big picture. Don’t look at individual projects,” Sweeney said.

Kercheval and Henry acknowledged that things are moving fast with the multiuse facility, but that was due to Suns ownership not wanting to continue at the Municipal Stadium site and talking to Winchester, Va., about moving the team down Interstate 81.

If the Suns leave and there is a break in the lease for a minor league baseball team to be in Hagerstown, Frederick Keys officials could step in and say they don’t want another team in the area, Kercheval and Henry said.

Kercheval said the Suns don’t want to stay at Municipal Stadium, which has a variety of problems, including flooding and a rock ledge in the outfield that causes a slope in left field. The stadium also doesn’t have a concourse and is landlocked due to a neighboring business.

Asked by an attendee if the comments people made Sunday would be given to city officials, Henry said the comments from Sunday’s meeting will be passed along.

“Do we have an answer for everything? No,” Henry said. But this is the first stage of dialogue and officials need to hear what the concerns are, he said.

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