By Angie Boyter
There is a disturbing state initiative to put two Korean-style structures twelve-feet tall and eight feet wide bearing a Koreatown sign in the right-of-way on Route 40 in Ellicott City. This represents a significant escalation of the small Korea Way signs that have been on Route 40 for several years.
This may sound like just a nice way to recognize a community. However, neighbors I have told about it, including a Korean friend, are NOT happy. Korean businesses and neighbors are common in this area but are not the majority. My nearby community of Dunloggin welcomes neighbors from Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Ukraine, Turkey, and South America, among others (even from Anne Arundel county).
There are Indian, Ethiopian, and Chinese restaurants, a halal market and a Hispanic grocery store all operating on Route 40, even a bagel shop and two Irish pubs.
The lawyer for the group planning this initiative acknowledged not informing the non-Korean businesses, which shows the tone. International Town might be a good designation, but Koreatown on a big monument sends a bad message.
Tens of thousands of residents who live nearby shop here for groceries, home improvement items, pet supplies, prescriptions, or a bottle of wine. Good planning tries to make shopping more convenient for residents, especially the many seniors in our area. This project would work against that goal by shrinking the character of the area.
We do not want to encourage tourism on Route 40; we want to buy peanut butter and cat treats and pick up lo mein and pit beef sandwiches in addition to kimchi!
I repeat: no one who lives in this area that I have made aware of it likes this idea; several have said that if the area becomes Koreatown they will stop patronizing the businesses. The overall effect on the Korean-owned businesses might easily be negative.
There are also engineering issues due to building structures over sewer pipes and other utilities. Here are pictures and architectural drawings of the project.
Why should anyone else care? This project has been in planning at the state level since 2016, but the public had no notice or opportunity to comment. The lack of openness should not continue; the state should change this process. This project was pursued even though the state Transportation Advisory Committee voted unanimously against it. It appears that the state not only does not want public input, it also does not want the input of its own advisory committees.
We love our Korean businesses, whether they be restaurants, bakeries, or Urgent Care, but we love our other fine businesses just as much and do not want them to feel they are considered second class. We are doing these mostly small businesses a severe disservice.
Even more, this project makes it clear that advisory committees appear to have no influence and that the citizens’ opinions are not valued or wanted.