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USF&G; Expansion: A Lot to Lose


USF&G; Corp. is a business giant that the Baltimore area can ill afford to lose. The city and Baltimore County governments must do all they can to keep the insurance company happy, especially as USF&G; looks to expand its Mount Washington campus straddling the city-county border.

Mount Washington's middle-class occupants constitute a community that Baltimore's leaders can ill afford to alienate. The city government must do all it can to keep these people happy, lest the planned USF&G; expansion drive them beyond the city limits and onto another jurisdiction's tax rolls.

There, in two short paragraphs, is the dilemma that local officials face. Finding a solution to please everyone won't be easy, given the recent bad blood between the parties.

On one side, Mount Washington residents angrily claim USF&G; has been too secretive and too hurried with its expansion plans. Moreover, they argue, moving 800 USF&G; employees from downtown Baltimore to Mount Washington would result in serious traffic problems.

On the other side, company officials deny these charges, pointing out that USF&G; has been a good neighbor since opening its Mount Washington facility in 1982. They also say the company wants to continue being neighborly, though a delay of the expansion would lead to costs and other hassles they would rather avoid. The implication is that a delay could lead USF&G; to move its entire operation to another part of the country.

The delicate nature of the dilemma is why the city planning commission has recommended that USF&G; build only 750 of the 1,000 new parking spaces it has proposed for the Mount Washington campus. The commission has put off a decision on a conference center and extra parking spaces USF&G; wants to build on the campus' city side. The county is moving just as gingerly on a USF&G; request for two new parking lots in its jurisdiction.

City and county officials want a prompt resolution. Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge has set June 15 as the date by which his Land Use Committee must approve, reject or modify the USF&G; proposal. But would this leave enough time for the two sides to resolve their differences? This is a classic case in which city and county governments should work hand-in-hand. The local bodies will have to work quickly and skillfully during the coming weeks if they are to bring the community and company to an amicable agreement. If they fail, there could be a lot to lose.

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