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North Beach Designs Its Future

Four days to a plan-in-a-nutshell

If you could design your hometown, what would you want?
    North Beach townsfolk just considered that question, describing their ideals to a team of planners from the American Planning Association. The pros listened, and in four late summer days, returned a quick-sketch plan complete with start-up instructions.

North Beach Now
    Dreaming — planners call it visioning — began on a Thursday evening. Six dozen or so citizens brainstormed the virtues of the Calvert County hamlet of 2,000. What they valued most was their walkable, waterfront, family-friendly small town and its small businesses.
    Of course North Beach is no blank slate. Incorporated in 1910, it has history. Towering condos block the water views of the small, even tiny, houses of its past. Tan’s Cycles and Parts thrives as a reminder of the town’s biker days. Businesses tend to antiques and arts, but there’s also a clothing store and several beauty salons. Most of the bars are gone, but there’s a wine shop, a couple of restaurants that serve liquor, a bakery, a Tastee Freeze and a kettle popcorn specialty shop. The furniture store returned, and a market is just opening to supplement the popular summer Friday night farmers market.
    Visioning also means things people would like less of. Those, they told planners, ranged from the seasonal economy to crowded beaches to noise, drugs, chain-link fences and town taxes. But more problematic, citizens said, were what North Beach doesn’t have: a town center, sidewalks and parking, water dining and entertainment, overnight accommodations, an arts center and a year-round economy.

The New North Beach
    Ahha! planners said and got to work. They walked the town, visited with business owners, shook it all up and on Sunday night presented 100 or more people, including the town council and fourth-term mayor Mark Frazer, with a plan for a town envisioned by and for its citizens.
    Make a block or two of Fifth Street — now fronted by empty lots and Tan’s Cycles — become the town’s main street, with a “wall” of desired enterprises: on one side a small hotel, restaurant and retail; on the other a performing arts center, all facing the Bay with prime second-floor views. Add landscaping and keep the farmers market.
    Tuck parking behind existing lots with a deck on each to double the number of spots.
    Maximize the beach, Bay and Bay Avenue. Add a crab shack at the end of the pier and a band shell performance space on the boardwalk.
    At the north end of the town, build on what’s there to develop a larger arts and commercial center. At the residential south end, add bed and breakfast accommodations.
    “Creative mom-and-pop retail make North Beach unique,” said planner Robert Paternoster, one of five on this all-volunteer American Planning Association team. “We make it functional.”
    Can this plan function?
    “Once priorities are decided, we’ll bring state resources down,” said Mike Paone, a State of Maryland planner. “It’s very long term. But it can happen. It’s got lots of momentum behind it.”