A place for swimming and aquatics at the future Westside Regional Park is at the top of the wish lists of many of the candidates running for Frederick mayor and Board of Aldermen.
The recreational park slated for development on the 148-acre, city-owned Hargett Farm property along Butterfly Lane is a hot election topic, and the candidates’ thoughts on what they want to see there was one of several questions they were asked during a series of podcasts with The Frederick News-Post.
From purchase to planning
Under then-Mayor Jeff Holtzinger, the city bought the Hargett Farm property in 2009 for $18 million, a purchase that is still costing taxpayers annually on debt service.
In January, the current Board of Aldermen passed a $98.5 million “bubble plan” for the property. The plan includes sections, or bubbles, for amenities such as open space, walking and running trails, sports fields, picnic areas, gardens, playgrounds, pavilions, an indoor pool and a water park.
The plan is just that, a plan, and what is ultimately developed at the site is up to future elected officials. To help them decide, a community task force is wading through options for the property and will come up with recommendations on amenities and funding for the incoming mayor and aldermen. The project is set to come to fruition with both public and private dollars.
The task force, which is made up of representatives from various community, sporting and recreational organizations, meets monthly. Members are visiting other parks to garner ideas and narrowing down what residents most want to see developed.
Summary of opinions
The two mayoral candidates on the ballot — Republican Mayor Randy McClement and Democratic Alderman Michael O’Connor — agree that the time has come to develop the property as a multi-use recreational park.
“There will be times when, you know, Alderman O’Connor and I agree, on a lot of things, and this is one,” McClement said. “We need to make sure that we are doing this the right way. It is definitely one that when the big [$98.5 million] number came out, you know, everybody freaked, and I don’t think anybody up on the dais at the time really expected that two days later to start building the park for that great big number.”
Both McClement and O’Connor were in office roughly a year ago when consultants with G.E. Fielder & Associates presented the costly bubble plan. O’Connor pointed out in the podcast that the number is arbitrary, though.
“I don’t want to quote the number because the number has been so quoted now ... it doesn’t matter. It’s not a real number,” he said. “We’re never going to spend that amount of money as a city on the development of this park ... it’s an important message there.”
O’Connor and several other candidates running for office this year also said they are against the way the city acquired the land, voicing opposition mainly to the price that was paid.
Democratic Alderwoman Kelly Russell, who is running for re-election, said holding the land is a “burden” on city taxpayers. Republican aldermanic candidate Nate Power pointed out that the city spent a lot of money on the property and has not gotten much payoff, but he said he does want to see it developed as a park.
Democratic Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak, who is also running for re-election and served on the board that voted to purchase the land in 2009, called the project her “baby.” She has said she was not completely in favor of the way it was bought, and the cost to the taxpayers since, but she is excited to see development at the park.
Republican candidate and former Alderman Alan Imhoff was also on the board that voted to buy the land. While he said he was not real happy about the price that was paid, he believes it was positive to buy the land for its future potential.
O’Connor, Russell, Kuzemchak and Imhoff, as well as Republican aldermanic candidates Bryan Chaney and Hayden Duke, all mentioned swimming facilities as top priorities for the future park.
They said the need is more important now because the new Frederick High School was not built with swimming facilities.
Democratic candidates Ben MacShane and Roger Wilson also mentioned an aquatic center as a possible option for the area, but both questioned the extent of the project and the funding source.
Wilson said he would also like to see soccer fields considered for the park.
O’Connor, Imhoff, Chaney and Wilson all said their children were on school swim teams, so they have a personal attachment to the sport and know the need for adequate facilities.
Derek Shackelford, a Democrat running for alderman, also questioned the purchase of the property and inquired about changing the terms of the sale. As far as what he would like to see at the site, Shackelford did not mention any recreational facilities, but instead talked about the possibility of affordable housing and green space community gardens.
News-Post staff members did not record a podcast with Republican candidate Katie Bowersox because she did not return calls and emails for scheduling. She also has not returned calls and emails for comment on any campaign-related stories.
The city’s Election Day is Nov. 7. Early voting was held Friday and Saturday.