The Finksburg Plan -- Why It Mattered; Why It Doesn’t Anymore
The Commissioners are poised to approve a Finksburg Corridor Plan this week which after ten years work by staff and community members is not worth the paper it is written on. Yes, I blame current County staff, particularly Planning Director Hager and most notably Commissioner Shoemaker for proceeding with this worthless Plan just so they can check off another item on their “to-do” list but I also blame the two previous Boards of Commissioners and staff, myself included, for not approving a Comprehensive Plan for Finksburg, the –so-called Gateway to Carroll County, while it still had meaning to the community and the guts to get some positive initiatives started along the MD Rt 140 corridor.
There is a long and torturous story to the Finksburg Corridor Plan, beginning over ten years ago and involving hundreds of volunteer hours committed by Finksburg residents and businesses. At one time the citizens of Finksburg set the county record for responsiveness to a survey of community needs and wishes. It has all gone to the hopper now. The public and local planning council are worn out in frustration. Planner Hager states that this Plan should be approved because regardless of how little it will accomplish it is just the start. Well if it’s taken ten years to create the Plan and then neuter it to its current state I suppose we should all wait for the Gateway to further deteriorate another 20 years before someone again makes an attempt to clean up the ghetto of Carroll County.
Despite our political differences, I had much hope that Commissioner Haven Shoemaker, as elected representative for District Two and armed with experiences from Hampstead’s revitalization, would work with the community to move a meaningful plan with design guidelines for new commercial development forward. Instead I have watched as commissioners Rothschild and Frazier have publically emasculated Shoemaker while gutting the Plan into a meaningless wad of paper.
There was never any intent to force better community design onto existing businesses but there was a hope that by providing example and leadership that the County would eventually turn the eyesores between the Baltimore County line and MD Rt 91 into a better place for new businesses to locate, for existing businesses to freshen their facades and for every property owner along the corridor to realize increased property values while new businesses would enter the area to provide shopping and dining opportunities to the 17,600 people in the Woolery’s Election District, which is a larger population than most Carroll Municipalities.
From personal experience I can speak of the many hours put in by members of the Finksburg Planning Area Council photographing the area, working on Photoshop renditions which showed possible improvements for some properties, drafting design guidelines and working with SHA and County planners on proposals to make the 140 corridor safer for drivers. At one point the County hired a very talented Landscape Architect at a cost of $35,000 to polish the design guidelines and provide drawings of specific properties which would change dramatically better with some meager landscaping and façade improvements. Those drawings were never released to the public but when one property owner heard that his site was considered an eyesore, he promptly went out and put metal screens across the windows and painted the property day glow blue. The Design Guidelines have now been ripped from the Plan but even that is not enough to satisfy District One Commissioner Frazier. She wants no mention of design because she has no appreciation for it and she believes government has no business in working with communities and businesses to improve their image.
That concept is archaic and contrary to what has been happening in the vibrant Carroll Municipalities where the local governments see themselves as partners in shaping communities with a better future for all of their taxpayers. Communities throughout Maryland are making great strides to improve their appearance so they can lure both tourists and new businesses. Commissioner Frazier is not only the antithesis of a community visionary; she is a symptom of backwards governance that retards both residents and businesses opportunities to move forward. It’s too bad Commissioner Shoemaker doesn’t have what it takes to exert himself into actually representing the interests of his election district. It’s worse that previous staff and commissioners let the opportunity to put a meaningful plan into place when they had the chance. The bottom line is that the Finksburg Corridor will rapidly deteriorate to become Carroll’s ghetto instead of its gateway. The dearth of leadership from County politicians and staff has doomed it to a certain future of unsafe roadways littered with businesses that would prefer to locate their dumpsters in front of their storefronts rather than the rear.
-- Neil Ridgely