When the four city aldermen running for re-election and their Democratic counterpart who made it through the primary penned a letter to the County Council asking them to delay County Executive Jan Gardner’s proposed purchase of a vacant office building within city limits, The Frederick News-Post’s editorial board wasn't the only one to find the aldermen’s “process objections perplexing.” But while the editorial board focused on the apparent squabbling over turf and deference, what puzzled me about the aldermen’s stance was precedent.
Less than three months ago, the city announced its intention to purchase the William Donald Schaefer Building at the corner of Carroll and All Saints Street with an eye towards converting it into a new police headquarters. The need for the new headquarters — along with several potential sites — had been discussed for several years, with public hearings, aldermanic workshops and even the obligatory consultant’s study, but the first notice most people had that the city was even considering the Schaefer Building, formerly offices for the state’s Department of Social Services, was a front page news story at the end of July. Five days later, the Aldermen approved the purchase contract, and I don’t recall any concerns about a lack of public input, taking a privately-owned property off the tax roles (Social Services leased the space), a shortage of sites suitable for attracting major employers or any of the other issues raised regarding the county’s purchase of the former State Farm building on Oak Street. But now the aldermen’s position seems to be do as we say, not as we do.
Which isn’t to say I disagree with the city’s purchase of the old social services building or totally agree that the county buying the State Farm property is a great deal. Both provide what appear to be easy solutions to pressing needs (the county’s quest for a new 911 center is what prompted the State Farm purchase, since the building was formerly a call center and has much of the necessary wiring in place), but the long-term implications are less clear.
For instance, what impact will the new police HQ have on the redevelopment of several adjacent and currently empty parcels along East Street or the folks trying to rebrand the Carroll Street corridor as a “creative district?” (Although in the latter case, the fate of the city-owned Jenkins Cannery, currently site of the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center, might be more crucial).
Likewise, the effects from the county’s purchase of the old State Farm property, which the council approved Tuesday, could ripple far beyond Oak Street. Some could be beneficial, consolidating scattered operations and potentially freeing up valuable property for redevelopment (the county-owned building at the corner of Sagner and Wisner comes to mind).
But the sudden need to the 22-acre site could also lead to some poor planning decisions. For instance, given the number of Westside residents who rely on walking and public transit, a branch library on Oak Street might be less accessible to some patrons than the main library downtown.
Matt Edens is a downtown Frederick resident who has spent more than two decades writing true-crime documentaries for cable television.