It's their first meeting of the 2013 campaign.
Issues such as the Frederick Town Mall Property, the Hargett Farm Property and the completion of the Carroll Creek Linear Park were some of the issues which came up during a mayoral candidates forum Monday night. A number of people crowded into the Faux School on South Carroll Street to listen to Incumbent Mayor Randy McClement (R), and challengers Galen Clagett (D), Jeff Holtzinger (R), Alderwomen Shelley Aloi(R) and Karen Young (D), and Jennifer Dougherty discuss their views on the issues.
Carol Hirsch (D) was not part of the panel because she could not find an interpretor. She is deaf, but Hirsh was in the audience watching the events.
Moderator Pattee Brown, who hosts WFMD's "Frederick Forum," conducted the forum as more of a casual conversation as opposed to a formal debate. She asked the candidates if they would support a rezoning of the Frederick Town Mall property. "Yes, I do think it's an appropriate idea to consider rezoning," Holtzinger said. "First of all, it's been general commercial for most of the time it's been developed as a mall. I think that's real issue is general commercial appropriate for that property."
The owners of the property have asked that the zoning be changed from mixed use, which provided some residential as well as commercial areas, to general commercial. That would allow Wal Mart to submit a site plan to build another store in Frederick.
Alderwoman Young said she supported general commercial with some limitations. Dougherty wanted the city to consider the property for medical uses. "We know this county going to grow to 400,000. The city's going to grow to 100,000. We also know that Frederick Memorial Hospital has outgrown its campus. Where can they go? We want FMH to be our hospital of choice. Maybe we can look at the Golden Mile for their next destination," she said.
Dougherty and Holtzinger are former Mayors of Frederick.
The candidates were also asked about the future of the Hargett Farm Property. The 148-acre site was purchased a few years ago by the city for about $19-million to be used as a regional park. But the parcel has not been developed, and the city is paying %100,000 a month for the property. The transaction took place when Jeff Holtzinger was Mayor, and he defended the decision. "The city's park facilities for active recreation are shameful," he said. "We have less park facilities than Walkersville, Middletown, Thurmont. Walkersville is less than a tenth of our size."
Can the city pay for any development at the site? "It can't be done. We don't have the money," Dougherty responded. "$19-million in debt, that's where we are on the Hargett Farm. There's $4.4-million budgeted for the capital improvements budget for Butterfly Lane. We don't the money. We don't have the money to expand the parks that we have."
But Incumbent Mayor Randy McClement said citizens will be seeing some progress at the site. "We have budgeted for street, curb access to get to what will be ballfields out there. The park system also has 52 additional plots out there," he said.
Delegate Clagett had a different idea. "We should appoint a work group to look at what our possibilities are with this particular parcel. And in that effort, we should be looking at the tools that are available to us to make a deal work. To say you're going to sell something is easy. To do it is a different matter."
But Alderwoman Aloi says the city should cut its losses. "The reality is in order to recoup the portion of the dollars, it has to be sold," she said.
The Carroll Creek Linear Park opened under rave reviews a few years ago, but it still remains incomplete, especially from the Delaplaine Arts Center to East Patrick Street. Moderator Pattee Brown said citizens wondered when the remainder of the park will be finished. "We have a funding strategy for it. It has been approved by the Aldermen and the Mayor. And we should be moving forward from the Delaplaine around to Patrick, and construction should start this year," Alderwoman Young responded.
Mayor McClement argued that it's not easy going for a lot of businesses that want to open along the Linear Park. "They're saying they're stuck. Banks aren't moving, they're not leasing. They're not providing loans because they're telling you have to have 60% leased before moving forward with loans. We need to be able to finish that project to provide that economic spur," the Mayor said.
The candidates were also asked about the proposed downtown hotel and conference center, which has been discussed for years. They were asked why it's taking so long to build. "When you asked investors to put 40-, $50-million on the table, that doesn't happen every day. They need to know that it's a viable project. They need to know that the city's committed to this project, and that the state is committed to this project, and that we're going to facilitate this project," responded Delegate Clagett.
But that doesn't mean the city will build, own and operate the hotel and conference center, said Alderwoman Aloi. She said the city would need to support the project with the basic infrastructure it needs. "That would be our role," she said.
The Democratic and Republican Primary Elections for Mayor and Aldermen is scheduled for Tuesday, September 10th. The general election is November 5th.