A Tiresome Eyesore Blemishes Bel Air

COMMENT

May 22, 1994|By MIKE BURNS

As one who bears the daily visual assault of the abandoned, dilapidated Carey Tire Co. shop on Main Street in downtown Bel Air, I strongly second the proposal to burn it down as a training exercise for the volunteer firefighters.

The idea came from County Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, partly facetiously. But it's refreshing to see someone in county government views this expensive white elephant with both a sense of humor and a sense of economy.

The Rehrmann administration wants to pay a contractor $50,000 to flatten the crumbling eyesore. That's after this administration paid $466,500 to buy the unusable cinder-block building a year ago. And then spent further taxpayer money on repairing the shattered roof and removing the overhang that threatened passers-by.

The county government's intention at the time was to use it for storage. But that was fantasy.

It was obvious to any buyer that the walls were buckling, held vTC together only by iron rods that traverse the structure. The roof was crumbling, the floor over the basement of the one-time wooden wagon works had rotted through in places.

But the ultimate effrontery is the proposed use for the half-acre site once it is bare: paving it with asphalt to create yet another downtown parking lot.

Apparently no one recognized that the seven-level Hickory Street parking garage, which is jointly owned by the county and the Town of Bel Air, usually has a lot of vacant spaces. And that it is losing money -- about $200,000 a year. And that it is a monument not only to excess but to user-unfriendliness.

In fact, that unloved, underused structure is ample evidence that county and town have failed to consider the public's parking needs.

Inadequately lighted and poorly signed for patrons, the Hickory Street monolith has a meter system that is designed to anger. You park the car, walk to the meter that dispenses coupons at 25 cents a half-hour, then return to the vehicle to put these coupons behind the windshield as evidence of payment.

Aside from this mid-rise garage, there's also an obvious surfeit of empty spaces in the sheriff and county employee lots around the public garage, and at meters off Main Street.

Indeed, Main Street's real parking problem is not a shortage of nearby spots but the maddening blockage of county seat traffic that occurs every time someone tries to parallel-park at the metered spaces along this narrowest of main drags.

That's the kind of laissez faire attitude that let the old Carey Tire Co. building sit there for years without remedy, until the county coughed up a half-million dollars for the ultimate privilege of tearing it down.

Carey Tire could have been leveled and rebuilt several years ago as a county office building. Owner James F. Knott proposed in 1990 to design and build a four-story office building on the site. The building would have been leased to the county for 20 years, at which time Harford would have taken title.

Habern W. Freeman, then county executive, favored the project. But it didn't suit the County Council, which wanted alternate proposals and other sites to be be considered.

Finally, three plans were submitted to the council and the county executive. By then it was too late to act. The 1990 elections were at hand, and the outcome caused a drastic change in the cast of characters.

Mrs. Rehrmann, intent upon crafting a tight budget and looking for a year-end surplus, shelved the idea. The general economy and the county treasury could not afford such a costly decision, she said. That was before her administration proposed the Sod Run sewage treatment and the Abingdon water plants, projects costing over $50 million.

Now the county plans to gain another parking lot, while losing an eyesore. But it will still have to spend millions to site and build new county offices, especially with the arrival of a new circuit court judge next year who will further squeeze the County Council's space at the courthouse.

*

Good news for the remaining workers at the Douglas & Lomason Co. car-seat factory in Havre de Grace.

Chrysler Corp. recently decided to extend production of A-body autos at the Newark, Del., plant and the Harford seat-maker's contract to supply seats for these models will provide work through the end of this year.

The D&L plant, with over 200 employees, had been scheduled to be shut down in July, without any prospects for other contracts or even a buyer for the facility, despite the active efforts of the county and the company to market the building.

That continues to be the bad news: No live prospects at this

point. Chrysler's new lines of autos built at Newark will use seats made by Johnson Controls in Cecil County.

As we noted a couple of months ago, Douglas & Lomason was until recently Harford's largest manufacturing employer. That title is now apparently held by the expanding Constar International plastic container plant located next to D&L in the Chesapeake Industrial Park.

Mike Burns is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Harford County.

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