In 2009, Frederick’s elected leaders bought the 136-acre Hargett Farm property along Butterfly Lane with the goal of developing the site into a regional park. Seven years later, still no park, but there’s been a lot of idling.

City aldermen declined last week to either accept or reject a $98.5 million proposed development plan for the site, balking at the plan’s particulars — a sports complex complete with 11 multipurpose athletic fields and a 4,000-seat stadium, a 60,000-square-foot indoor swimming center, a water park, a festival area, a 5K trail, a conservation area, playgrounds, landscaping, picnic areas and five parking lots — and at a price that rivals the cost of the downtown Carroll Creek flood control and linear park project.

The consultant, Laurel-based planning and landscape architecture firm G.E. Fielder & Associates, estimates the city could generate about $2.8 million annually once the property is developed — with the bulk of the revenue coming from the proposed stadium and swim center — but that amount remains about $500,000 less than the $3.3 million it would cost to operate the park each year.

City aldermen had hoped that by hiring a consultant they’d be demonstrating they were serious about moving forward with the development of a property that has largely been left untended for nearly a decade. Instead, the consultant offered up so many bells and whistles that it became more for city officials to dither over — should they approve a plan even if certain parts of it never make it off the drawing board? Should they move forward with building a natatorium now that the YMCA intends to open a pool in Urbana? Should the city wait until it receives interest from the private sector in partnering up on some projects? Is there sufficient demand for a stadium? And where is the money going to come from to pay for all of this? Ultimately, they decided that in order to move forward they had to eliminate many of the plan’s details.

This leaves them about where they were before they hired the consultant, just $247,784 poorer. Not to mention the debt payment on the city’s $18 million purchase, which comes to about $1.5 million a year.

While it might be tempting at this point to ask if the city erred eight years ago in buying property that it had no plan for what it wanted to do with, we think the city did the right thing. As Frederick continues to urbanize, the need for open space and parkland in the years ahead will only increase. Residents should consider the purchase as an investment for the future, for their children and grandchildren, just as amenities secured through the investments made by previous Frederick residents are available now for current residents to enjoy.

That said, we think city public works director Zack Kershner has the right idea — city aldermen should have approved the consultant’s plan, which established a good set of guidelines that they can refer to — move forward with the parts of it that are immediately doable and leave as conceptual the parts that aren’t. While the plan offered options for a multiphase build-out that started with the festival grounds and ended with the sports fields, there’s no reason city officials couldn’t rearrange those phase-ins based on demand, or as interest emerges from private partners.

Frankly, we liked some of the swing-for-the-fences amenities in the consultant’s plan. Frederick already abounds in walking trails, picnic areas and playgrounds for tots; what it needs are swimming pools and dedicated ball fields (although, to be honest, we’re not crazy about the 4,000-seat stadium — the only real dud in an otherwise solid concept), and we think the city should look at how to make those parts of the concept a reality.

In the meantime, the city took an important first step earlier this year when it approved a bond re-funding that would pave the way for using private partnerships to help finance the park’s development, and city officials are right to budget for the road realignment and improvements around Md. 180, which is expected to cost about $2.8 million.

Maybe now is a good time to remind city aldermen that last month was the birth month of President Teddy Roosevelt, whose vision for preservation helped establish the National Park Service. In his 1913 autobiography, Roosevelt cites a bit of sage wisdom from Virginia’s Squire Bill Widener: “Do what you can with what you’ve got where you are.”

Worth remembering.

(10) comments

garden whimsey

Sell that property! It is another waste of money, like the golf course. Sell it to a developer with specific requirements for parkland, a school, and roadways. Make the requirements very strict and don't let the developer wiggle out of any of them. It will bring in perpetual tax revenue instead of a continual loss for the city.


Isn't this just another TEASER manufactured by Development, the Randall family and their partners...Frederick, Maryland elected officials? Wouldn't you think THEY would use better bait that THEY are using here? And it has to be asked...what role is the Young FAMILY playing in all this strategic manipulation? After all, they supported the scam for building a hotel and convention center in downtown Frederick.


Ok, this will continue to cost us on a yearly basis bigtime, but it's less than the current debt service. No stadium. Btw the ballfield at Amber Meadows seems to have gone unused all summer. Not complaining, just saying apparently fields are sufficient. The creek plan seemed grandiose at first too.


This is the time to invest in the Patrick Street area and bring in people from the west to build up the economy of that area.


Are you talking about investment or gambling with loaded dice?


They might as well do something with the property. What do you want?




But see they had already approved a tax sucking deal, one that had big money behind it and one that benefits the FNP, the DH&CC, guess they realized the city won't have money for this park.. This editorial is disingenuous, and makes you look the fool, you can't call the aldermen out over one decision when you should be calling them out on both,

You write that the proposal for the park was probably confusing for the Aldermen, too much stuff to understand so they tabled the whole thing and yet they understood the MOU for the DH&CC....which is a worthless agreement, and you saw nothing wrong with them approving the MOU? The County approved the TIF, so now a million more in taxpayer dollars will be funneled to Plandomon for acquisition and design on a project that will likely never be built. So the Aldermen understood the MOU but couldn't figure out a way to make the park work..not buying that one, the city aldermen should have approved the consultant’s plan, which established a good set of guidelines that they can refer to ....and yet they approved the MOU? A MOU that had so many twists and turn it was like riding a water slide.

You complained about the money they spent on a consultant and the debt payment on the city’s $18 million purchase, which comes to about $1.5 million a year and yet see no problem with the millions that have been spent so far on the DH&CC, why didn't you write an editorial after that disastrous vote by the Alderman when they approved the MOU? Well we all know why......

The aldermen didn't approve the park plans because they don't really care about the citizens, they care more about giving corporate welfare to the rich. This is a clear indication where their values are and it isn't with the citizens it is with the rich. Let me see where would I like my tax dollars spent, on a park that I will be able to use whenever I feel like it OR a Downtown Hotel and Conference Center ?


I agree entirely. Thanks for representing the thoughts of many of us.


You are so welcome francesca.

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