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Development decisions put Md. cities, mainstreets at a crossroads

OCEAN CITY — Maryland’s incorporated subdivisions could be at a crossroads with their individual fates decided, in part, on how each chooses to redevelop and revitalize their respective downtown main street areas.

That was the message delivered by Parris N. Glendening at the Maryland Municipal League conference to officials representing 157 incorporated subdivisions that are part of nearly every county in the state.

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Parris N. Glendening, the former governor and Prince George’s County executive, is the current president of the leadership institute with Smart Growth America. (Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

“Some communities are going to prosper and do very well,” said Glendening, the former governor and Prince George’s County executive and current president of the leadership institute with Smart Growth America. “Some are even going to do better and have shared prosperity, reducing the inequity in our society and offering greater opportunity to everyone and that prosperity will spread through out the community. Some communities are just not going to do as well and will have a continuous battle over budget issues and providing services and it will be almost an annual crisis. Sadly, some communities will fail. They’ll just collapse. We’ve seen that around the country, well publicized with larger communities but also some smaller ones. ”

But Glendening said the outcomes are not “a matter of rolling the dice.”

“The decisions you are making now will, in fact, determine where on that future outline — and there are no other alternatives, it’s going to be one of those four no question about it — the decisions you are making now will direct which direction your community till go,” Glendening said.

Climate change, an aging population, the needs of an even larger millennial generation and growing concerns over inequality will drive many of those decisions, Glendening said.

Vibrant downtown needed

Glendening said the key to more sustainable communities will be a vibrant downtown, attractive walkable areas that incorporate mixed use properties and localize density along main streets.

“Every place I go, people say ‘Don’t Manhattanize us,’ ” Glendening said. “That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about relative density so that a four story building with commercial on the ground floor can bring density and change to a very small to moderate sized town. It is as important as one of these significant, huge projects that we see elsewhere.”

In Frederick, a flood created the opportunity for main street revitalization in the form of a water Carroll Creek Linear Park, what was once a creek re-engineered to minimize flood damage by channeling waters through Frederick.

What was left worked but was essentially an ugly reflecting pool, Frederick City Mayor Randy McClement said.

Efforts paying off

But efforts by the city to revitalize the area by making the park more aesthetically pleasing has attracted visitors and businesses.

“This began as a flood control project and was completed over several decades and through many administrations,” McClement said. “What could have been left as unattractive but critical solution to downtown Frederick flooding today has turned out to be the gem of our city,”

The first phase of the project cost the city $10.6 million. McClement said that has attracted $35 million in new construction and 350 new jobs. A recently completed phase two costing $8.5 million and $6 million in federal transportation funds is expected to draw $100 million in new construction in the surrounding area as well as a new downtown hotel and conference center in the former home of the Frederick News-Post building.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, a long-time environmental and smart growth activist and executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, said communities such as Annapolis, Berlin and Hagerstown have seen relatively large growth — in some cases doubling population —because of successful main street revitalization efforts.

“There are real, big changes in small places,” Schmidt-Perkins said. “We’re seeing the growth from this investment.”