Paul Gordon: Improperly closing a Frederick street is the path to shaky government -- Gazette.Net


A Frederick Streets and Sanitation Commission meeting earlier this month provided no answers.

Alderman Michael O’Conner, the panel’s chairman, and Aldermen Karen Young and Shelley Aloi seemed concerned about the reasons for closing one lane of Shookstown Road from Rosemont Avenue.

Despite the city attorney’s explanation that the action was temporary and allowed under the new city charter, research has failed to verify that statement. To be sure, if there is an existing emergency, the mayor has that power, but this was no emergency.

In fact, when Mayor Randy McClement announced the closure in December, he said it was only temporary until the city could gather additional information. According to a published report, the traffic engineer and mayor made the decision without calling upon the aldermen, which is required under the city code.

Section 22-22.2 reads: “Upon request of any person, a street, alley or other public way — may be vacated and thereafter closed by action of the mayor and board of aldermen.”

The request shall be placed on the mayor and board’s regularly scheduled meeting not earlier than six weeks from receipt of the request and “a fair summary” posted in a newspaper for four weeks, the section continues.

A few citizens showed up at the streets commission hearing to express their concerns and opinions. But even the commission had heard no significant reason for closure.

One resident who lives on Shookstown Road at the crest of the hill complained that he could not see traffic coming over the bridge, and it was a matter of safety for him.

Yet his problem is not the curve and bridge, but a wall of evergreens planted by an ex-neighbor on her property who was unwilling to remove it. The city had no authority to order removal of legally planted greenery.

The city in the past has also not become involved to the extent of “vacating a street” because of such complaints.

When the street was built, it was recognized that at the eastern side of the bridge sat a more than 200-year-old estate called “Tryall” or ‘Harwell.” Rather than build Shookstown Road onto a historic property, they apparently curved the roadway.

When the city stopped left turns onto Shookstown Road from 3 to 6 p.m. in 1990, it caused an outcry. Hundreds of traffic tickets were issued to violators.

In a letter to the editor published at the time, a Middletown resident asked: “What makes the residents of Shookstown Road think they are so special that they should not have any cars travel on their road at rush hour?

Why, she asked, since residents of Wilson Place, Bentz Street or Rosemont Avenue might feel the same way.

I have heard such complaints before, and traffic problems are only increasing as the city fails to build the needed infrastructure. If a few residents can get the city to close a needed street without public notification and involvement as required by the city code, we have a problem.

Fortunately, the streets commission refused to make a recommendation until a traffic count is taken, so they have an idea of just how serious the problem is.

The panel should be commended for standing firm, despite the mayor ignoring the city code and the city attorney saying the city is empowered to take such a temporary action.

First of all, it has been over two months since closure began, which is hardly temporary.

Secondly, it appears city leaders have offered no direction for its staff to conduct a traffic count, which is necessary to determine what action to take.

The citizens of Frederick are not dolts. They deserve an immediate conclusion, in the manner set forth in the city charter and code.