Frederick City—the Haves and Have-nots
Submitted by Gary Brooks
In 1859, Charles Dickens wrote the epic novel A Tale of Two Cities. In this classic, there’s a famous quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness….” That statement contrasts the plight of the French peasantry, demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution with its aftermath, and with London’s social conditions. Using this story as analogy, it is possible to contrast the “aristocracy” of the Frederick’s downtowners with the “peasantry” of the rest of the city. Frederick’s “privileged triangle” consists of that part of the city delineated by Route 15, East Street and I-70, while its “underclass” can be said to live outside it in areas like Whittier, Hillcrest, Amber Meadows and Dearbought.
A Permanent Temporary Relocation
A number of years ago, during the administration of (Frederick Mayor) Jennifer Dougherty, the city decided to clean up downtown. In hindsight, it seems it was mostly focused on getting the residents of the beleaguered John Hanson Apartments out of downtown by hook or by crook. They were eased to Whittier, Hillcrest, Key Parkway and Amber Meadows with the promise that, as new housing was built, they could come back. Well, it didn’t happen that way. The Carroll Creek Linear Park project was completed before the city’s Hope 6, affordable housing project was even conceived—and when it was finally built, it sold at a premium, leaving those who had been displaced little option but to stay put. Thus began the “haves” and “have-nots” of the City of Frederick.
Retailing Outside the Privileged Triangle
I wonder if the retailers who are located on the Golden Mile, Rosemont Avenue, Route 26 or 7th Street, past Route 15 feel somewhat neglected. They must wonder what the city was thinking when it decided to put directional signs up informing everyone that its main shopping and dining spots are located on Market and Patrick Streets in the Historic District. Did you know that those eye-catching “Wayfinder” Signs—paid for by all city residents—cost around $1 million and only direct people downtown for shopping, restaurants and theater? What’s ironic is that not only do we have great restaurants and shopping all over the city, but we also have a very successful privately owned (i.e., not dependent on taxpayer money) playhouse, right on the Golden Mile. It’s called Way Off Broadway. I wonder if the current administration would spend another $1 million advertising businesses outside the “Privileged Triangle”?
Sign-of-the-times Signing Rules
If you want to put a sign in front of your business in the City of Frederick, the “Gestapo” zoning police are at your side in a blitzkrieg minute, ready to cite you for infractions of city zoning regulations—unless, of course, your business is located in downtown Frederick. Apparently, even though businesses on Rosemont Avenue or the Golden Mile are inside the City of Frederick, the rules are different there than they are downtown, where exceptions seem to abound. Don’t believe me? Just walk down Market Street any day and observe the sandwich boards and impromptu “patio seating” that exist, using up almost every square inch of sidewalk space. Now, just try to put out a directional sign to your shop in any of the malls outside the “Privileged Triangle” and you’ll be slapped with a code enforcement citation so fast your also-cited sandwich board will snap shut.
A Middletown man I read about decided to buy a house in Hillcrest, and wanted to rent it to “wayward” women going through various 12-step rehabilitation programs. By code, this would be a boarding house. When questioned about his plans, the man admitted he had no experience with or certification for 12-step program care, and that he was just going to let the residents decide what the house rules would be. When the “peasantry” questioned the McClement Administration on the possibility of blocking this project, they were told they’d have to live with it. And later, even when it was reported that a registered sex offender was living at the house, the peons still were told nothing could be done. (As an aside, the backyard of this house—one of 20 group homes in Hillcrest—sits next to a neighborhood park and is adjacent to Hillcrest Elementary School.
In contrast, when the nationally recognized Sylvan C. Herman Foundation expressed its desire to open a group home for the mentally challenged in the “Privileged Triangle,” all hell broke loose. The McClement Administration was out there bringing in mediation, and the “downtowners” were screaming in the streets. City officials showed up at every citizen meeting, and extensive attention was paid to this downtown group home issue. Where was the outrage when the 20 group homes went into Hillcrest? Where were the media when the sex offender moved in across from that elementary school? Were city officials as exercised about the Hillcrest group homes as they were about the one proposed for downtown? Not likely.
It’s important to remember that in The Tale of Two Cities we learn about the brutality the French revolutionaries inflicted on the aristocrats. Perhaps we can avoid that fate by learning how to coexist and create one great city, instead of one consisting of the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
Gary Brooks is a resident and business owner in Frederick.