Vol. 8, No. 17
April 26-May 3, 2000
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North Beach Reborn
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In North Beach, A Case Study in How We Grow

Used to be, if you looked up “tacky” in the dictionary, you just might find a picture of North Beach. We weren’t around in the Beach’s wide-open gambling era, but we do recall (with some fondness) their days of wild bars, off-key rock ‘n’ roll and more pool halls than you could shake a cue-stick at. It was a happening place, for sure. But what was happening?

“North Beach was the last ghost town on the Eastern Seaboard. Everybody who came here was lost,” recalled Dale Thomas, proprietor of landmark Nice & Fleazy Antiques.

Thomas, who survived that era quite nicely, is among those we’ve gotten to know in 15 years’ acquaintance with North Beach. We recollected what he told us in 1993 when we took a new look at North Beach on its centennial for our special report this week. North Beach Reborn includes an interview with Mayor Mark Frazer about the town’s future.

If you haven’t been to North Beach recently, you’re in for a treat. Instead of lost souls on the corner, you’re apt to find purposeful folks proud of the town’s revitalization. The boardwalk is a beauty. The pier is hopping. And the town and its mayor are bursting with ideas for the Fourth Street Park, bikeways, road improvement and boat slips at the pier.

We’ve examined North Beach through the prism of modern planning, viewing it through a set of enduring guidelines provided by our friends at the American Planning Association. Among them: affordable housing; commitment to children and the elderly; balanced growth; and protection of the environment.

On these scorecards and others, we asked North Beach’s able new mayor to evaluate how the town is providing for its people as it proceeds aggressively into the — and its — new century.

In North Beach we might find a lesson or two for Anne Arundel County as Small Area Planning Committees reach another milestone. The original six committees presented their plans to the County Council last month. This month, six more committees, including South County and Deale-Shady Side, ask citizens to listen to and revise their results.

We hear lots of pining for the good old days combined with determination to throw up the ramparts and keep the doggone invaders out.

We feel like that ourselves when it comes to protecting open-space and Bayfront lands from sprawl and suburbanization. But in our town centers, it’s a different story. Has to be if we want a high-quality life without burdensome (and dangerous) commutes for shopping and daily needs.

In existing towns and centers of commerce throughout Chesapeake Country, we’re going to have to create some good new ideas that put flesh on the bones of Smart Growth. That means permitting and encouraging business development — as long as it doesn’t violate local character with superstores and cookie-cutter architecture.

North Beach is on target. Who knows? One day you might look up “tactful” in the dictionary and find the town’s picture.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly