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Business district in Catonsville community welcomes revitalization

Residents of the Catonsville community of Paradise have started a movement to help the community live up to its inviting name.

That effort received a boost on July 24 during a sidewalk auction on the south side of Frederick Road.

On that Wednesday, the strip of businesses that include L.A. Hair at 6431 Frederick Road to Pizza Hut at 6415 Frederick Road was purchased by Gilbert Moscatelli, Greg Hunt and Laurie Hunt for $1,095,000.

"Nothing is yet finalized," Moscatelli said in a July 30 email. "But we are planning on a considerable investment in the property, which will include structural and aesthetic upgrades, over the next few months after we take possession."

Moscatelli said the Rockville group was excited about what's been going on in the area. .

The buyers plan to reach settlement by the end of August.

For Paradise residents Scott Schools and Maureen Sweeney Smith, the investments are a beacon of hope.

They have worked with the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce to create an official logo for the Paradise business district, cleaned up and landscaped a number of gardens and parking lots along Frederick Road and worked with local artist Edward Williams to create and paint a mural to be installed at the Paradise Bus Loop shelter.

We're trying to raise money to do things that visibly help the community, Sweeney Smith said, and the news of new investors could spur that effort.

The duo has been working with the Paradise Community Association and local business owners on a number of revitalization projects to bring new business to Paradise.

One project is to create a large banner to be hung at the intersection of Frederick Road and Prospect Avenue. The banner will sport a large rendering of the Paradise business logo. Local businesses can add their names to the banner for a $50 sponsorship fee.

Schools created a Facebook page, "Love Living In Paradise," to help keep residents up to date with community beautification projects. One of those projects was the gardening he did in front of Catonsville Pharmacy at 6350 Frederick Road on July 28 with Sweeney Smith and a few other residents.

The new the bridge over I-695 — scheduled to be completed late this fall — will be another big boost for the community.

"That's a huge, huge asset to the community," Schools said. "It's going to be an amazing gateway."

Sweeney Smith said the Short Line Trail, currently being resurfaced by Catonsville Rails to Trails, will connect the Paradise side of the Baltimore Beltway with the Catonsville village, eliminating a barrier that was previously a challenge to traverse.

One of their biggest projects, Schools said, is to trim the trees on the south side of Frederick Road in order to improve sightlines to businesses on that side of the street.

"Personally, I think they're hideous," Schools said of the planters that line the south side of the street.

He said the planters — which stand about 3 feet tall and are at least twice as wide as the sidewalk — are too tall and, combined with the mature trees they hold, significantly limit the businesses' visibility to traffic on Frederick Road.

He and Sweeney Smith plan to utilize Catonsville's recent designation as a state sustainable community to secure funding to eradicate the planters. That would make room for outdoor seating in front of businesses and more visible signage.

"If we had the money, (to remove the planters) I think that would be freaking brilliant," Schools said.

Mary Branning has owned Lucy's Paradise Cafe — at 6429 Frederick Road in the strip of buildings recently purchased at auction — for more than seven years, and said the planters are a huge hindrance to her business.

"It's definitely a challenge," Branning said. "There are people that have lived a quarter of a mile away, that have never even noticed us."

"For people to say that, it's obviously a visibility issue," she said.

Though she was worried when she heard the property she rents was one of the ones that sold, she is hoping the new management will bring positive changes for the area.

"Obviously the auction is scary," Branning said. "This business is my life."

"Other than that, we're excited to see people finally saying, 'Let's do something in Paradise,' " she said.

In addition to the sale on the south side of the street, Catonsville resident Jim Mohler decided to put up his strip of properties on the north side — from Paradise Tavern at 6412 Frederick Road to the clothing store at 6400 Frederick Road — for $1.1 million.

"I'm 72 and sort of getting tired," said Mohler, whose family has owned the properties since his father built them in the 1920s. "I'm hoping a good buyer will come along and put some money into it."

He said he was encouraged by the auction for the property across the street and hopes the new owners will give it the attention it deserves.

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