Revitalizing Small Towns

November 21, 1991

Suddenly, it seems, small towns in Carroll and Frederick counties are pondering their future. Westminster, Emmitsburg and Sykesville are debating strict historic preservation measures. Meanwhile, local businessmen are wondering how they could make Taneytown look more like Emmitsburg, which they see as a model of an attractive little town with historic streetlighting and a tidy downtown.

In that context, it is ironic that political leaders and the Emmitsburg Business and Professional Association are fighting like cats and dogs over a move to nominate their town's older areas to the National Register of Historic Places. Mayor Robert Preston and Councilman Tom Gingell are critical of the effort, fearing it will lead to unnecessary intervention by agencies not controlled by the local government. For their part, many businessmen favor it, because a historic place designation would make Emmitsburg residents eligible for tax incentives, low-interest loans and government grants.

These same issues are being debated in Westminster, where the mayor and the city council are considering a plan for a historic district in an area roughly bounded by Manchester Avenue, Key Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Proponents say the measure would prevent further demolition of historic landmarks. Opponents argue strict preservation rules would stop progress in the Carroll County seat.

We do not see any of these cases as either-or propositions. Considering the abandonment of the once-thriving downtown Westminster business district, for example, we believe a balanced and flexible historic preservation ordinance might help trigger its revitalization.

There is no way the downtown commercial district in Westminster or elsewhere can compete with nearby malls. For that reason, they have to develop commercial uses that differ from malls. With its proximity to the huge population base in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Carroll County, Westminster in particular could succeed with craft and antique shops that compliment one of its chief drawing attractions, the popular Carroll County Farm Museum.

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