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Police station, trails, buses discussed at Commissioner Howard's Freedom area meeting

Police station, trails, buses discussed at Commissioner Howard's Freedom area meeting
Sheriff Jim DeWees, shown speaking at a ceremony honoring Carroll law enforcement in 2015, spoke at a meeting led by County Commissioner Doug Howard on Wednesday at the South Carroll Community Center and expressed his desire for a full-service police station in Eldersburg. (Carroll County Times file)

What Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees would really like to see in Eldersburg, he told the group gathered Wednesday evening at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center, is a more visible office.

“I go to meetings down here regularly and I ask them if they know where my office is,” DeWees told the group Wednesday. “Most would say they go to the rear of the public library — well that’s simply not where it is anymore.”

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Several years ago, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office satellite in Eldersburg was moved from the rear of the library to a small space at 1641 Liberty Road (Md. 26). DeWees, as well as Carroll County Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, would both like to see it relocated yet again — this time to a 2-acre plot the county already owns directly in front of the Eldersburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library, right at the intersection of Md. 26 and Hemlock Drive.

“It is a perfect spot to put a full-service police station there for the Eldersburg community, and that has been a goal of mine since Day One,” DeWees said in an interview.

About a dozen people came out Wednesday night in Eldersburg to meet with Howard and other county government staff to discuss funding priorities for the Freedom area.

Wednesday’s meeting was billed as an “Imagine Freedom” work session and organized by Howard. But rather than a meet-and-greet with a commissioner, the goal was to discuss community concerns — such as crime, public safety, sidewalks and transportation — with an eye toward informing future funding priorities for the Board of County Commissioners.

The idea for the session had its genesis in the commissioners’ discussions around the Freedom District Comprehensive Plan, Howard said, a document currently back in the hands of the Carroll County Planning Zoning and Commission that will envision the pattern of future development in the greater Eldersburg area over 25 years. The Freedom area is one of two unincorporated areas designated for future growth; the other was Finksburg, which saw its own plan, the Finksburg Corridor Plan, adopted by the board of commissioners in 2013.

Leaving aside how much future growth might take place in the Freedom area, Howard said he believes the county needs to take into account the burden existing development has made to the region’s infrastructure.

“We are a designated growth area, but because it’s an unincorporated area, we really don’t have the infrastructure funds dedicated to that area,” he said in an interview. “I think we ought to have some funding set aside for things that are specific to the area, like a municipality would.”

The purpose of the work sessions — and Howard does hope to hold at least two more before budget season in the spring — is to decide what that money should be put toward, Howard said.

“If we are going to get some consideration for funding year after year for the demands of being this growth area, what are some of the things that would be on the immediate list?” he said. “What are some things we would like to do over a period of time?”

A new police station for the sheriff’s office would be something that would take three to five years, according to DeWees and Howard.

“I would like to get the plan done and maybe some of the site work done on this budget, and then maybe over the next year or two years, get the actual facility up,” Howard said.

Also at the meeting were other county government department heads, such as Jeff Degitz, head of Recreation and Parks, who spoke to concerns about the Freedom area becoming a more walkable community.

“Back in the 1990s, we couldn’t build gyms fast enough and we couldn’t build ball fields fast enough,” Degtiz said. “When we put out surveys now, what we hear about is trails.”

And not just trails, but interconnecting sidewalks — a challenge, Degitz noted, with the often patchwork pattern of sidewalks throughout Eldersburg.

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When considering the possibility of current growth in the face of current congestion, walkability is about more than just an opportunity for a stroll, Howard said at the meeting.

“How do we get people, on foot or on bike, safely across Liberty Road?” he asked.

Because it can sometimes be easier to get funding for trails than for sidewalks, Howard said, there may be an easier way to make the Freedom area more walkable, and safer. Degitz told those at the meeting about a recently completed trail connecting the two dead ends of Macbeth Way, and a planned but currently stalled trail that would connect Eldersburg and Sykesville — the Gov. Frank Brown Trail.

“For people to be able to take make that trip and not use a vehicle would be huge,” Degitz said.

The holdup, he said, is that there is currently a National Guard training center being planned for a spot in the middle of the trail.

“Until we get the footprint for that building, we are sort of at a standstill,” he said. “Once we know where the building is located, we will know more where the trail can go, if they can coexist on that property.”

From trails, parks and walkability, the conversation moved to public transportation. Joe Everett, executive director of Ride With Us, which manages the Carroll Transit System, spoke about the system shifting from an on-demand, door-to-door model to one of more fixed routes.

“There are two shuttles here, we have the South Carroll shuttle that stays in South Carroll, and we have the Eldersburg to Westminster shuttle,” he said. “One of the changes upcoming will be that the timing of the buses arriving at the hubs will be much better coordinated — it will be much more convenient.”

Stops at CVS and Walgreens will soon be added to the South Carroll route, Everett said, while the Eldersburg to Westminster route will be adding stops at various medical offices around Carroll Hospital.

The shuttles can be a real bargain in Everett’s opinion, $2 a ride typically, and the county hopes more people will consider riding the shuttles — and on a fixed route, rather than calling for on-demand pick-up.

“I will tell you, they are really underutilized in this part of the county,” he said. “We have a lot of unused capacity.”

Howard said in an interview that he hopes more people will come out to the next meeting, exact date to be announced, and offer more ideas and feedback on several of the topics that were explored at the Wednesday session.

“I think certainly public safety is one, I think sidewalks are another,” Howard said. “I think we really just need people to come focused on that particular issue.”

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