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Collapse Seems To Be The Solution To City Blight!
David 'Kip' Koontz

April 12, 2002

The walls, the walls, the walls are falling down! Well, at least on 4th Street. Probably won't be long before others do, too.

That does seem to be what it takes for the City of Frederick to do something about buildings on the blight abatement list. Collapse!

Why is Frederick so afraid of the property owners who own these neglected buildings? Why does the city wait until property, that may be historically significant to boot, is tumbling down before something is done?

On South Market Street, right off the beautiful Carroll Creek promenade, we lost all but facades as several buildings, long neglected and in danger of collapse, were finally buttressed.

Some pessimists claim that city officials do nothing, as they do not want to upset "wealthy landowners who may in someway benefit them at some point in the future."

Unfortunately the optimists haven't weighed in on why they believe this problem is allowed to exist.

Even more unfortunate are buildings that "may endanger the lives of Fredericktonians" because of their dilapidated conditions.

Why does the city allow them to get that way?

During this past city election one heard the story, related by a kind woman, who lives in a beautifully rehabbed home on South Market Street, who wanted to find out the status of some properties that have been on the blight abatement list for sometime.

At first, she was told she could not have access to the information, then that the files were not updated, then this and then that. Paperwork and request forms needed to be filled out and processed, which she was told, "would take some time." It did.

Heck, the city was even nice enough to call her at one point to tell her the information she requested was ready, only to have it unavailable upon her arrival at City Hall to claim it.

This fine lady, however, being a spitfire, repeatedly reminded the powers that be inside City Hall that she wanted this information and had a right to see it. Then, after a month or so the city acted.

As if moved by divine intervention (and probably the fear of a public outing) the city pronounced the information available and broke down and gave it to her.

Folks, we are talking about public information, aren't we? Why would a resident of the city be put through such a hassle to see public documents?

Again, the pessimists argue that the city is protecting "powerful friends."

As the optimists don't really weigh in, that becomes the only explanation out there.

It is embarrassing that Frederick, the second largest and, some would argue, the most beautiful city in Maryland, has a blight abatement code that is for all intents and purpose, pointless.

It is even more embarrassing that if we only looked 30 minutes to the west we'd find a blueprint for a plan that is effective and doesn't wait until buildings crumble before something is done.

Anyone who has seen Hagerstown over the last two decades can see what a wonderful job their plan has done.

Where there were once boarded up, falling down, rat infested buildings with paint cracking off and bricks decaying, are now freshly painted, window-filled buildings of all kinds that at least look decent if they are not fully occupied.

People finally said, "Enough is enough." Hagerstown makes it financially unfeasible for slumlords to continue to own slums and abandon properties. Hagerstown crafted a plan, which dictates you fix it or the city will continue to fine you. And fine they did.

Even some of the slummiest of slumlords complied. Some are even making money from tenants.

No longer did one's name, nor money, nor "prestige" matter as officials with courage decided it was time to change the look of downtown Hagerstown.

There comes a point, before it collapses, where most folks would sell a building to someone who will fix it up instead of continuing to pay fine after higher fine.

In Hagerstown, they have that incentive.

It is possible to end property blight. It is proven. What is it going to take for Frederick to do so?

Ouch! Is the sky falling?

No, silly, it's just some bricks from that building over there.

Walkers beware.


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