Our Great Legacy

Dear Readers,

So, if I were to tell you the state was going to bestow a legacy to the city would you think of a big fat inheritance? Placement in Ivy League schools? Membership in elite country clubs? Would you assume that something of historical value would be passed on?

Well, if loan payments are of historical value, then yes, that’s it.

The Maryland “Community Legacy Fund” is the strange title of a state loan program, making loans that support public-private partnerships. The Fund is now taking applications so the city council was recently hashing out which of three projects to ask funding for.

The city’s Economic Community Development Director Sara Anne Daines (known by the granolapark staff as “The Silver Fox” for her platinum-silver tresses), presented the options to the council June 5th.

The option the council spent the most time discussing was a proposed Old Town parking facility. The private partner of the “public-private partnership” would in this case be John Urciolo, who owns a big chunk of Old Town – including the row of commercial-spaces on Laurel Avenue, the parking lot tucked behind it, and the currently undeveloped Eastern Avenue property around the corner. Urciolo has been planning a big development there, including a new parking facility on Eastern, enhanced parking in the back lot, and a new commercial-space building on the empty lot next to the post office That empty lot, by the way, used to be a supermarket which burned down in the 1960s – an act of arson, according to rumor.

But, I digress, and so has Mr. Urciolo. This proposed development has failed to, . . . well, develop. And, the buzz is that the plans have become less grand. The proposed community theater, some of the shops, and Eastern Avenue parking facility have been dropped, apparently, though the plans for a restaurant are proceeding – but not with any haste, judging by the lack of any indications such as groundbreaking.

The Eastern Avenue parking facility (everyone calls it a “facility,” though in Urciolo’s original plan it was a “multistory garage.” Gilbert is not sure why this “facility” weaselism is being used. Either it is no longer a multistory garage or they are afraid people will react negatively to the term.)

What was I talking about? Oh, yes, the Eastern Avenue FACILITY plan would be revived by the Legacy Fund loan. The loan would also cover costs associated with the rebuild of the existing parking FACILITY (does that mean it will no longer be a parking LOT?) behind the Laurel Ave. shops.

What will this give us, the persons parking our cars? Parking would be for the generally public, not just for businesses in Mr. Urciolo’s buildings as it is now. Eleven employee parking spaces would be created. And the grand total of additional non-employee public spaces is . . . [drum roll] . . . 29, dear Parkers! And, that’s after adding a restaurant that will require more parking spaces. Old Town is already desperately short of parking, as any local merchant will tell you (wear a raincoat to protect yourself from the froth and spittle).

Fear not, these aspects were not unnoticed by your city councilmembers, Dear Reader.

Some on the council expressed reservations about favoring one business with the loan, and they said some Old Town businesspeople felt the same way. The council skeptics also felt that 29 additional spaces are not enough. Councilmember Terry Seamens said he gets no “warm fuzzy feeling” from the proposed deal. Councilmember Marc Elrich opined that adding only 29 spaces would only exacerbate the parking problems for Urciolo’s current tenants.

However, an incredulous Bruce Williams, councilmember for Ward Three, said that increasing the parking for the area (along the border of Wards Three and One) seemed like a “no-brainer” to him, and asked rhetorically what he was missing. He pointed out that there was no other place in Old Town to locate parking. It doesn’t hurt anybody, Williams said, as long as Urciolo pays back the loan, it is “no skin off our backs.”
Joy Austin-Lane, the councilmember representing Ward One, where the bulk of the Urciolo development would be, agreed with Williams, saying she doesn’t want to see an opportunity lost. However, she was also concerned that only one person would benefit from the loan.
Ms Daines pointed out that other loans are available to other businesses, if they wish to apply.

Marc Elrich proposed a survey of Old Town business owners to see if they thought the 29 additional parking would be a big enough benefit.
Hello? Hello? Why can’t the city enter into a public-private partnership to turn the existing parking LOT behind Laurel Ave into a mostly underground, multi-storey parking GARAGE, with entrance/exits to both Carroll/Laurel and Eastern, PLUS access to the underground garage proposed by the Infrastructure Capital Group (ICG) “Taliano’s” developers??

Gilbert has to admit that this may be impossible to do from an engineering standpoint (and no other standpoint is of any relevance in this matter). In the course of this discussion it came out that the Mayor and at least some of the council (Williams and Austin-Lane, anyway) met with John Urciolo at the urging of the local neighborhood association to convince him to allow access from IGC’s proposed FACILITY to Urciolo’s Eastern Ave FACILITY. The concern of the neighborhood association is that ICG’s only planned access point for their parking FACILITY is on a narrow, steep, residential street, Westmoreland Avenue ((see the March 17th granolapark posting “Hydra Foil”).

The Mayor and Councilmember Williams were disappointed, they said, because Mr. Urciolo made it plain that the angle from ICG’s underground garage to Eastern Ave. was too steep for a car to drive.

Speaking of the ICG development, the second proposal for use of Legacy funds was street-scape improvements at the corner of Westmoreland and Carroll to accommodate the anticipated additional traffic generated by that residential development. The mayor pointed out that this is already a dangerous intersection, and the residential development, which plans on locating the sole entrance to it’s underground parking garage just down the steep hill from that corner, will add significantly to the number of cars using the intersection.

Councilmember Seamens observed that though he understood the problems faced at that juncture, Carroll Avenue is a state road and that traffic control is therefore the responsibility of the state. He said he’d prefer to apply the Legacy Funds to the New Hampshire Corridor.
That is the third option, where, according the Sarah Daines, the money would be used for facade and security improvements, installing trash containers in bus shelters, sidewalk repair, signage and operating expenses.

– Gilbert .

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

2 Comments on "Our Great Legacy"

  1. Notwithstanding your advertisement on Free State Politics, your blog is not quite as good as sex, but it does last longer. Besides, I can enjoy your blog during a break at work, whereas with…. not so much. Significant other is 50 miles away, not cooperative.
    Good luck and congratulations on your blog from a very dynamic part of the state!

  2. Thanks, Bruce! Glad you stopped by on your long journey to, um . . . meet your significant other. And thanks for the opportunity to explain to my Dear Readers that granolapark is now a contributer Free State Politics, a site that compiles several Maryland political blogs. Bruce’s comments refer to the granolapark’s introduction there. It’s a great site, undoubtedly it will be a “must-read” throughout the campaign season.
    – Gilbert

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