Rolling Mill Development Controversy Continues PDF Print E-mail
Appalachian Culture - Appalachian Culture
Written by Kara Rogers Thomas   
Tuesday, 13 October 2015 18:28

The controversy continues to brew over planned development in Cumberland's Rolling Mill neighborhood. After holding an informal community meeting on Monday, October 5, which included more than twenty neighborhood residents, a representation of those residents voiced their concerns during the public commentary section of Cumberland's Mayor and Council Meeting on Tuesday, October 6.

Mr. Woody Gordon spoke about his attachment to his home of four decades and his desire to remain there. He asked to be told the criteria used to select his neighborhood and he made a special request of the Mayor and Council to walk through his neighborhood with him to explain their choice. (Mayor Grim did walk through the neighborhood with Mr. Gordon yesterday.)

Ms. Diana White gave an impassioned plea for her home, where she resides with her mother, saying she's spent most of her life there and plans on remaining there until she dies.

Cumberland resident Marc Nelson asked a number of very specific question of the Mayor and Council including:

-Will the city use eminent domain if a property owner refuses to sell?

- What is the geographic scope of the project?

- What is the projected cost of the project?

- What is the timeline of the project?

My own remarks are provided in full detail below.

I'm Dr. Kara Rogers Thomas a Cumberland resident and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Frostburg State University. I'm a Sociologist by accident of profession and a folklorist by training. That all contributes to my desire for transparency and public dialogue when considering issues of smart growth and participatory development. I'm not against growth. I'm not against development. I want Cumberland to thrive and I believe that the majority of Rolling Mill residents want to see Cumberland revitalized as well.  But I also believe that all stakeholders should have a place at the table. I want the City Government's emphasis to be on creating an inclusive community where all voices have been heard and a path forged together.

As a Sociology professor, I am familiar with contemporary publications and works on smart growth, sustainable cities, and participatory development. On the Smart Growth page of its website, the Environmental Protection Agency provides 10 basic principles to guide smart growth strategies. Those were developed, "based on the experience of communities around the nation that have used smart growth approaches to create and maintain great neighborhoods."

These include:

I believe numbers 5, 7, 9, and 10 are particularly pertinent to the City's Development initiatives involving the targeted opportunity zones.

Those include:

5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place.

7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities.

9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective.

10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

Last evening I attended an informal meeting with home owners from the Rolling Mill neighborhood. They are particularly concerned with issues of transparency and community participation and collaboration. The neighborhood home owners want the opportunity to meet with the Mayor and Council and the Cumberland Economic Development Corporation. They want that meeting to be public and open to all Cumberland residents. They want to know what the future plans are for this area. They want to know the criteria used to select this/these neighborhoods. They want to know why the City is overseeing this rather than the developer itself. They want the opportunity to ask these questions and have these questions addressed in a public forum.

Making a decision about a community without holding a public meeting to foster dialogue with that community is the antithesis of community building and the best practices of Smart Growth initiatives. Perhaps it's not too late. I'd like to propose that the City engage in a public forum and share with its citizens these plans for development.

Last week I launched a petition requesting that the Cumberland Mayor and City Council and members of the Cumberland Economic Development Corporation share plans for the development of targeted neighborhoods with all interested parties in a public forum which includes the opportunity for public discourse and commentary. We seek full participation and transparency in this process.

To date, that petition has generated 256 signatures and multiple pages of commentary. I respectfully request that a public meeting on this issue is scheduled and advertised- providing a minimum of two weeks' notice to enable all interested parties to make plans to attend.

Thank you.

(The online version of the petition currently has 250 signature. I have another 20 signatures by hand. Although the Mayor and Council were presented with the petition, all parties continue to deny the request for a public meeting.)

Speaking in support of the plan were Cumberland resident Mr. Dave Williams and Mr. Jonathan Hutcherson, Cumberland Economic Development Corporation board president, who spoke on behalf of the board to say that Mr. Hershberger has its full support. Mr. Shawn Hershberger was the last to speak, saying that residents of the targeted area had been contacted and he was working with residents individually. He stated several times that there would be no public meeting. Moreover, he contended that the economic development plan is available to the public and there were multiple sessions for public comment during the design phase of that plan. (Author's note- Rolling Mill is mentioned in this plan, but few details are provided.)

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