View From A Light-rail Window: A Spruced-up Ferndale?

January 15, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

Ken Pippin pictures this when the first light-rail train rolls into the station in his Ferndale neighborhood:

Spruced-up businesses with scrubbed facades -- hardware stores, restaurants, taverns, gas stations -- serve commuters who ride tracks to within half-a-football field of the commercial strip and get off at a nearby stop.

In that vision, new sidewalks have replaced buckled, cracked ones. Young trees breathe new life into the asphalt strip. Rush-hour traffic no longer clogs the streets, but flows without a hitch because ofnew road patterns.

But Pippin, who heads the Greater Ferndale Improvement Association, says that realizing his vision will require making a few business owners red-faced first.

For in the midst of a broad revitalization effort to give Ferndale a long-overdue face-lift,some businesses -- including several owned by people from outside the community -- have acted like the neighbor who refuses to cut the lawn or paint the house.

Pippin, president of the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad, and some of his neighbors have had enough of dilapidated businesses, fading facades that haven't felt a paint brush in ages, tires and debris in front of shops, and signs -- no fewer than 115 for 24 businesses, by one count.

"We have to live here in Ferndaleand we have to look at all this every day," Pippin says. "Some others can run their business here and leave us with their trash and theirdilapidated buildings."

He's not naming names publicly -- yet -- but Pippin says several businesses owned by outsiders have made no effort to fix up their shops.

"So we're going to have to embarrass them," Pippin says. "We're going to have to just hope the businesses that do fix up will embarrass those that haven't into doing so."

Pippin says about 20 businesses need a make-over outside. He hopes manyof them will take advantage of a county program that offers 20-year improvement loans at 4.5 percent.

So far, though, only four Ferndale businesses have borrowed money under the county's Commercial Corridor Revitalization Program. It will loan up to $25,000 each to as many as 20 businesses to restore buildings and facades or to do landscaping.

The county also has reserved $1.4 million to improve sidewalks, plant tress and install new street lights in the business corridor, which dates to the Depression. The plan grew out of recommendationsfrom a consultant the county hired.

Pippin likes to tell the story about the day everybody in the neighborhood got a look at their community through someone else's eyes.

As William Donald Schaefer toured the streets during his 1986 campaign, Pippin and other community leaders took a few pictures.

When the pictures came back, Pippin offered an unequivocal assessment of his hometown: "This place looks terrible."

Today, some of the businesses -- including the Larkin Electric Co., where a new brick facade replaced huge windows -- look like Pippin's vision for the future of Ferndale.

Many others do not.

Now, as light rail makes its way southward, with an expected arrival by late 1992, Ferndale wants to be ready so businesses can cash in on a potential boom.

But the community's attempts to look more like it did half a century ago also have a lot to do with pride, for Ferndale and for Anne Arundel County.

"A whole lot of people are going to see this strip up-close when they pass by on the train and it'll be a big factor in how they judge Anne Arundel County," says Leo Harnen, a retired Baltimore City housing inspector who heads the Ferndale-Linthicum Area Community Council. "And we want to make sure they like what they see."

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