CARNEY — After years of eyeing the vacant lot on the corner of Joppa and Magledt Roads, Carney residents may have expected to end up with a 7-Eleven at the intersection. But instead of the neon glow of ‘OPEN 24 HOURS,’ a different sign recently came to the corner.
Modest but proudly displayed right on the corner, it reads ‘Welcome to the Heart of Carney, Maryland.’
The wooden sign was donated by Joni and Claude Elmore, owners of Kona Ice of Central Baltimore and the historic Joppa Road snowball stand, formerly the My-T-Fine Snowball Stand, who purchased the empty corner lot last year with a promise to develop it into a community space.
Five years ago, the Elmores bought and renovated the snowball stand on Joppa Road which has stood for decades as an icon of the nearby neighborhoods. They didn’t own the corner lot next door, though, and the busy spot seemed primed for a retail development.
“It was an eyesore,” Joni Elmore said. “We tried to keep it cleaned up, but we could only do so much — we didn’t own the property.”
The spot had, in fact, already been the subject of some debate among community members and was zoned for commercial use until District 5 Councilman David Marks down-zoned it in 2012.
“I thought that the earlier zoning was incorrectly done,” Marks explained. “A 7-Eleven or a retail establishment just doesn’t make sense there.”
When the Elmores acquired the snowball stand in 2016, Marks ensured they had all the legal permissions to run the business. He also resisted pressure to reverse the earlier decision to down-size the corner lot, denying a change which would have cleared the way for development.
For Marks, the historic significance of the nieghboring snowball stand made it all the more important that the corner be preserved as a piece of the community.
“I remember going very clearly going with my father to that snowball stand in the 1980s,” he said. “The Elmores suggested when they purchased the property that they wanted to improve it, and I said to them, ‘Why don’t we have a sign there?’”
Marks also called the spot an eyesore, the underbrush sometimes collecting trash which made it difficult for nearby neighborhood residents to walk to the snowball stand.
Since acquiring the land last year, the Elmores have already done some landscaping to add additional snowball stand parking while preserving grassy space. Joni hopes to see it become a gathering spot for outdoor events, or a spot where community members just hang out.
For the Elmores, it was the support of community members like Marks which encouraged them to take on responsibility for the corner.
“The community was behind us and knew we would maintain it,” she said. “They knew we wouldn’t sell out to a conglomerate.”
For Marks, the sign is an appropriate way to honor Carney, which he described with affection as under-appreciated, wedged between Towson and Perry Hall.
“I thought a sign would be a nice way to show the distinctiveness of the community,” he said. “It’s a beautiful sign. It’s very tasteful. It’s very small, like Carney, and it’s a reminder of the quaintness and character of this little community.”
Many community members have called the intersection the gateway to Carney.
Meg O’Hare, president of the Carney Improvement Association, said the sign is significant because it will be seen day in day out by drivers passing through the intersection.
“Every time I’m there, I look at the sign,” she said. “It has a little heart on it, and it kind of warms my heart to see.”
For O’Hare, it’s important to reclaim community spaces in the area after the neighborhood saw an uptick in commuter traffic from drivers seeking to avoid the Beltway. In fact, the resurgence of the Carney Improvement Association in the 1990s was linked to a campaign to get a traffic light installed at the very same intersection.
She explained that in representing a smaller community, the organization is very interested in potential development. O’Hare wasn’t keen on the idea of a convenience store on the corner.
“A lot of our problems have to do with people wanting to set up businesses that don’t benefit our community so much as they benefit the people driving through,” she said. “It’s a constant battle.”
In her history of victories and losses as an advocate for Carney’s community, O’Hare counts the Elmores taking over the corner lot as a big win.
“The owners of the snowball stand, with that sign, recognize the importance of where their business is located in the heart of Carney,” O’Hare said. “It’s a very special thing.”
Coming off a busy season despite the challenges of the pandemic, the Elmores have high hopes for what’s in store in 2021. They’re considering installing a picnic bench or two to prepare for another booming summer in which outdoor events are still very much the norm, and are also gearing up to expand the snowball stand’s menu.
Only time will tell exactly how the space will come to be used, Joni said, but she hopes the sign honoring their spot in the community starts it off on the right track.
“If we can do anything to make the area a little nicer,” Joni said, “We’ve done something special.”
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Note: This story has been updated to include comments from Baltimore County Public Schools and The Coalition of Maryland Parents and Students.
Learning loss is affecting students of almost all demographics, with virtual learning being the main culprit, according to Gov. Larry Hogan.
Hogan gave a press conference from Annapolis on Jan. 21, joined by Superintendent of Schools Karen B Salmon. Hogan issued a public challenge to all local public school boards in the state, saying there is no public health reason for school boards to not allow students to return to public schools.
Hogan expressed his desire for all public schools in the state to reopen their doors by March 1. He aligned his own wish for successful school reopenings with that of newly-inaugurated US president Joe Biden, who said during the transition of power that he wants to see schools reopen within the first 100 days of his presidency.
“This really isn’t controversial,” Hogan said. “The science is clear. Nearly everyone wants to get our kids back into school.”
“This is a top priority that has strong and broad bipartisan support.”
All public schools were ordered to close last March after Hogan declared a state of emergency, when COVID-19 was discovered in Maryland. Public schools in Baltimore County have remained closed since then, having students switch to a strictly virtual platform.
The learning loss, Hogan said, is expected to be around 5-9 months, disproportionately affecting students of color, and low-income and disadvantaged students. Many debates around reopening have included the impact on students when they learn at home as opposed to in a classroom. Hogan added that the distribution of the vaccine has given an indication that the state’s health metrics could be reaching a plateau. The Maryland positivity rate as of Thursday, according to Hogan, was 7.66 percent, a 20-percent decrease.
“While school systems have made strides with remote learning, far too many students remain unable to thrive in such an environment,” Hogan said. “There can be no debating that online learning has taken an unmistakable toll on students, families and educators.”
State health officials presented new guidance pertaining to reopening schools on Thursday. Acting Deputy Secretary of Health Dr. Jinlene Chan also joined Hogan at his presser, told reporters on Thursday that the guidance is based on information learned in other states, and other counties, and is based on several considerations.
The first consideration, she said, is that evidence does not support the claim that sending students back to classrooms would increase community spread. Schools have reopened in setting where spread is low, and reopening didn’t lead to a rise in cases, she said. Schools have also been able to provide in-person instruction in places with higher community spread, including in Maryland jurisdictions.
The next consideration is that school transmission is relatively uncommon when schools enforce safety guidelines effectively. This includes distancing, use of masks, and sanitation, she said. In school outbreaks that have occurred, evidence showed that schools did not effectively enforce guidelines, she added.
The final consideration, she said, is that school closures, and pandemic isolation, are causing many students to fall behind academically, which could have long-lasting impacts if state officials don’t act now.
“Some studies are also showing growing signs of depression and anxiety from pandemic isolation, due in part to long-term school closures,” Dr. Chan said. “They also disrupt the availability of school-based programs that are really important to children and to families across the state such as school meals, mental health and psychological services.”
Baltimore County Public Schools issued a statement early in the evening on Thursday, saying it has a plan in place to return to in-person learning. An update to that plan was provided at the school board meeting held earlier in the week, the statement said.
“Our goal has always been to get students and staff back into schools as soon as it is healthy and safe to do so,” the statement said. “We have been following guidance from the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Health based on health metrics for Baltimore County.”
“We will review today’s announcement and adjust our reopening plan accordingly.”
The Coalition of Maryland Parents and Students (COMPS), a coalition of 13 organizations more than 15,000 parents around the state, also issued a statement on Thursday commending Hogan’s announcement. Reopen Baltimore County Public Schools is a member organization of this coalition.
“While millions of students across the country have safely returned to classrooms, Maryland has remained one of only six states with little to no in-person instruction,” the COMPS statement said.
“ Last week, in desperation, we turned to Governor Hogan for help, and he listened, and in the past 24 hours we feel incredibly hopeful for our kids. We strongly commend Governor Hogan for his leadership and commitment to both education and public health. He understands that the mitigation methods being used successfully in 44 states – masking and social distancing – can be used in Maryland, and he has granted our school districts the resources they need to make it happen.”
The COMPS statement also called on respective school boards in every jurisdiction to take action in “days, not weeks” to heed bipartisan calls from state and federal leaders to reintroduce in-person instruction.
WHITE MARSH — When the Perry Hall/White Marsh Business Association (PHWMBA) decided to create a catalog of local businesses, they didn’t want to keep it limited to their members, so they hit the streets, taking down the names and addresses of any businesses which fit the bill.
Shop Here All Year has grown to include more than 140 businesses since the site launched the Saturday after Thanksgiving in the run-up to the first holiday season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. PHWMBA President Lynn Richardson hopes the website will become a long-term tool to help people connect with businesses right in their own communities.
“The initiative gave people an opportunity to find places right in their backyard that they just overlooked before,” Richardson said. “We decided to call it Shop Here All Year because we knew it was going to survive the holidays.”
After the pandemic brought on a wave of lockdowns, in-person retail all but shutdown at business in Baltimore County and around the country. PHWMBA members were struggling, and the organization wasn’t able to bring people together for in-person social and support events.
Instead, they pivoted to initiatives that could proceed safely amid the pandemic, including a holiday light competition and a business scavenger hunt.
“We came up with a couple of ideas that were what I would call safe outreach,” Richardson said. “We did some webinars on financing and stuff like that, and then we started thinking, ‘What else can we do?’”
Amid a nationwide shift toward online retail, creating a central spot for customers to find the websites of local businesses seemed like a good way to encourage local shopping. The catalog has mostly stayed away from big chain stores — and no complaints so far, Richardson said.
“The big stores and the chains — they’re hanging in there,” she said.
Small businesses, on the other hand?
“They need a boost,” Richardson said. “I’m not saying that this is going to make a difference whether they stay open or not, but it’s not going to hurt them.”
Richardson explained that the association received a county grant for COVID-19 relief which funded the project’s minimal overhead. She said the funds were broad in nature, encouraging them to take a broad approach that included even businesses who were not already members.
“The grant was designed to help local businesses be more recognized and get more traffic in the door,” she said. “We feel a responsibility to the community as a whole.”
Richardson thanked her board of directors for working with her to pursue initiatives like Shop Here All Year which can help member businesses reach new customers and development opportunities amid a difficult time.
“We have been able to react quickly to opportunities that are presented to us,” she said. “And that has a lot to do with a really hard working, engaged board of directors that I have working with me.”
Shop Here All Year also raised their profile among businesses. Richardson said that they spent three intensive weeks speaking to local business owners, often not just pitching the Shop Here All Year project but also explaining what PHWMBA can do for members — connections, community-building and business development resources.
Learning about the site has encouraged a few business owners to become PHWMBA members, but Richardson emphasized that the association hopes to support the community on a wider scale — there’s an option for business owners to add their own listing in one of the site’s 11 categories, no membership required.
“Just because you’re not a member doesn’t mean we can’t support you,” Richardson said. “As an organization, we do better if the community does better.”
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