Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Misguided on Main Street

The negative reaction of some to the news of a Subway sandwich shop landing on Main Street in Ellicott City is puzzling. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, the news of Subways arrival was “very disturbing to some of the more protective independent local merchants, craftspeople and visitors who come to the old mill town for its quirky appeal. What's next, some wonder: Starbucks?McDonald's?”

And this is necessarily a bad thing?
Consider this, some of the most successful historic towns like Annapolis and Chestertown thrive on a combination of the familiar and the not so familiar. The very fact that a national chain is locating on Main Street validates the location for others both local and national, especially if Subway knocks the cover off the ball

But what about the other local deli’s you say, won’t a national chain hurt them?

Perhaps, but consider that a chain also brings some marketing muscle to attract more people. A good national operator like Subway will also make everyone else raise their game up a notch and, in the case of Ellicott City’s Main Street, that would not be bad thing. Quirky appeal can only get you so far. 

The whole integrity of the historic district argument doesn't hold much water either.

"That's not a direction we want to see Ellicott City go," said Shelly Wygant, a Historic District resident who is also president of the Howard County Historic Society.”

Which direction would she prefer, vacant storefronts?

Similarly confusing is the objection to the proposals for the redevelopment of the Hilltop Housing complex and the Roger Carter Recreation Center. According to another story by Larry in The Sun residents at a recent meeting about the project “complained about the estimated $15 million cost of a proposed larger recreation center, skeptically questioned traffic conditions, worried about school crowding and suggested that mixing low-income and full-price renters in the same complex might not work.”

I suspect the true objection is the fear that this will somehow lower their property values.

"We're more worried about our green stuff," said Tom Marshall, 48, who lives in the Chapelview development on a ridge just west of Hilltop. "I paid $500,000 for my $350,000 house," he said referring to the recession's effect on its value. "It's not going to get any better for us. This is going to impact us negatively." He criticized the recreation center, saying, "I moved out of Columbia. I don't want to be in Columbia north."

Seriously Tom?

It is more likely that his home value will be negatively influenced by maintaining the status quo. This is smart growth we’re talking about here, creating a more walkable community. More people living within walking distance of the stores and restaurants in the historic district is good for the health and welfare of the Main Street merchants. A successful historic district equates to healthy home values.

And if the project ends up looking anything like the housing project that the county is currently redeveloping in Columbia, it will be a significant improvement over the current conditions.

Even if it does looks to some like Columbia north.
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