USF&G as good neighbor

June 09, 1995

Residents of Mount Washington and officials of USF&G Insurance Co. must do better in trying to accommodate each other during the corporation's expansion of its campus in that community. Both are important to Baltimore.

Mount Washington, whose development began in 1854 as a community of summer homes, eventually became the city's first real suburb. As many as 16 trains a day carried commuters from Mount Washington to downtown and back by 1885. The neighborhood today includes some of Baltimore's best citizens. They should not be ignored.

Neither can the parking and meeting space needs of USF&G be ignored, as the company moves its headquarters and nearly 800 workers from its landmark Inner Harbor skyscraper to the more pastoral setting of Mount Washington.

It would be preferable to keep that work force downtown, which doesn't need such setbacks to its vitality. But by expanding its Mount Washington offices, USF&G will continue to play a major role in the life of the city as well as Baltimore County.

The insurance company's expansion plans have made Mount Washington residents nervous. Some believe the integrity of the community is threatened. A dozen marched Monday night outside City Hall to protest the first phase of the expansion, construction of a 925-space parking garage.

A divided City Council passed the measure, but protests have also been threatened over additional USF&G plans for a 144-room conference center, a separate 276-space parking garage and expansion of an existing parking area.

Raymond C. Celli, USF&G assistant vice president for real estate services, has said he is pessimistic about the future relationship between the company and Mount Washington residents if the community continues its attempts to block each expansion move.

That should not happen. USF&G might have avoided some of the criticism of its expansion had it involved the neighborhood in its planning from the outset. It didn't. But the company has met with community leaders at least 15 times since Feb. 28 to try to reach consensus on what it wants to do.

USF&G has been in Mount Washington since 1982. There was concern about traffic and quality of life then. But USF&G has proved itself to be as good a corporate neighbor as most. The two sides must keep talking to each other as this expansion continues. Not all neighbors get along, but past history shows that these two can.

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