Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

July 25, 2013

They could care less about us

Mayor Grim’s paternalistic assumption that this “good neighborhood” (Johnson Heights) can withstand the destruction of Memorial Hospital shows a lack of understanding of both the neighborhood and its residents.

His dismissive attitude is simply a way of disregarding concerns residents have about their health, their property, or their quality of life. The fact is the demolition is a done deal, so why should he care?

In fact, residents have protested those actions that unraveled their communities many times, only to be ignored in the long run. The State Board of Education and neighbors protested the peddling of Johnson Heights Elementary School, but the County Commissioners sold it anyway.

Hundreds and hundreds of residents throughout the city, including physicians and other medical professionals, fought to save Memorial Hospital, but they lost to the developers. Parents and neighbors tried desperately to save the ballfields and playgrounds, but that, too, was a losing battle.

County/city history reveals a disturbing pattern. Citizens have no voice in their government because of the relationship connected businessmen/developers have with elected officials.

In fact this administration, perhaps to comply with developer wishes, has disregarded its own findings. In 2007, the EADS Group of Somerset, Pa., gave a summary of the second phase of the Cumberland Memorial Hospital Adaptive Reuse Study to city officials. The city, by the way, paid $20,000 for this second phase.

The headline reads “Memorial Hospital suitable for many uses” (Times-News, Sept. 6, 2007). In the story, Maria Smith writes, “Favored uses include a development that would provide office, residential, retail, and educational space or a medical mall that would be a mix of offices, noncompetitive health care and convenience retail ... The goal is to maintain the building’s function, appearance, and use ... “

When David Kauffman was running for councilman, he worked this neighborhood door to door, and his big selling point was plans for Memorial Hospital; one such plan was a nursing school. This plan would have fit with the findings in the aforementioned survey. Of course, now he is a proponent for tearing it down.

Most troubling of all, and the most important question, is where is the needed environmental study showing the consequences of this demolition to the neighborhood? The Board of Education recently released a plan for containing asbestos at the Sacred Heart site. Have the city officials taken the same precautions? Perhaps it is time for the EPA to get involved.

In addition to the noise and air pollution, the infrastructure of those homes and streets surrounding the hospital will be severely damaged. Two homes directly abut the lower parking lot, but the homes on Memorial Avenue, Warwick, Ridgewood, Kent, Cecil and Louisiana will suffer also. Never once, though, have the Mayor and Council met with residents to hear concerns.

Equivocation is the byword for this administration. They have never given a valid reason for the hospital’s destruction, nor have they revealed what is to be developed in its place. Please! No more look-alike houses found throughout the city. This administration does not realize that before constructing more housing, there must be a demand for housing. There is no such demand in Cumberland.

Yes, the developer/elected officials relationship governs all else. This city, which has no money, borrows seven million dollars to destroy a building, when the city’s infrastructure is at an all-time low. The streets throughout town are in a state of disrepair, and for the first time in memory, are even overgrown with weeds.

The underpass on Baltimore Street is disgusting, and the crumbling subway on Virginia Avenue evokes a prayer when driving through it. Because of the cutback of workers, the city itself is filthy. No one is trying to restore, rebuild, or maintain those parts of the infrastructure that are most meaningful to our everyday lives.

More duplicity and more conflicting pronouncements: Residents were originally told the building housing doctors’ and dentists’ offices would not be destroyed. However, these people, too, have been given notice to move out by August. Well, that’s a problem with developers; they always want more.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to elect an individual who actually shared transparency with voters, one who loved the city, and who cares about citizens and their concerns?

It is sad and shameful to think not one individual in this administration apparently does so.

Colleen Burke

Cumberland

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