WESTMINSTER — Concerned over the fate of trees in the path of the East Main Street renovation project, residents have hired an urban forestry consultant to make recommendations to save them.
Chris Cowles of Steve Clark Associates, a nationally known urban forestry consulting firm based in Prince George's County, followed the route Thursday and viewed plans for the State Highway Administration project.
"I'm not here to take sides," Cowles said. "Just to look at the trees and the plans and figure out what's involved."
Although his $500 fee -- collected from anonymous donors -- will not pay for a tree-by-tree assessment, Cowles will prepare general solutions for protecting the trees.
"I'm not prepared to do an intense evaluation of the trees," Cowles said. "There are a lot of factors involved (in saving trees), more than can be assessed by simply looking at them."
Residents said Thursday that current reconstruction plans will not only remove trees and narrow sidewalks, but may damage the city's revitalization efforts.
"Our town is not hospitable," said Rebecca Orenstein, founder of TreeAction, the group working to save trees along the renovation route. "Downtown is for people, community, not traffic."
The plans -- fought by residents who say the changes will lessen the charm of Westminster -- call for widening the road to a uniform 40 feet from Longwell Avenue to Quintal Drive on Washington Road.
Most of the century-old trees along the route would be removed and utility wires moved to the north side of the street.
"It seems like we are making it possible for people to use downtown as a superhighway," Orenstein said, noting that Main Street could be used as a direct route to the airport industrial park on Route 97.
Comparing it to successfully rebuilt cities like Frederick, which restrict traffic flow with one-way and blocked-off streets, residents said widening the street would discourage business downtown.
"It's psychologically inhibiting when you make the sidewalk smaller," said Orenstein, addingit is dangerous for people -- particularly children -- to cross MainStreet near the library.
Joseph Getty, director of the Carroll County Historical Society, said the corner of Bond and Main streets is an example of how increased traffic can negatively affect shopping.
The intersection was enlarged in the early 1970s, removing buildings next to J. C. Penney and the current Carroll County Bank and Trust building.
Slowly, business has decayed on that corner, with several stores vacant in that block and J. C. Penney recently closing, Orenstein said.
"The main issue is not just the trees," said Cowles. "It's the possibility of changing the character of downtown to a suburban corridor.
"You could lose the pedestrian human scale, and it'snot comfortable for people to do their shopping."
But city officials disagree, saying the renovations are simply reactions to existingtraffic conditions that will worsen.
"Twenty thousand vehicles inthe near future, that's the reality," said Thomas B. Beyard, city director of planning. "The traffic will be there whether the road is designed properly or not."
"I don't think this project will destroy the integrity of Main Street," said Jon Frenzel, the city's assistantdirector of public works. "With the fire hall on Main Street, we have to make it passable for emergency vehicles."
The street, which ranges from 35- to 39-feet-wide along the route, could not accommodatetwo ambulances passing each other if trucks were parked on either side, a public works report states.
Officials also have said it would be too expensive to alter the plans at this point, since there would have to be changes on each sheet of the plan and recalculations made.
"Anything done on the plan now requiring modifications and changes will be an added expense," Beyard said.
But the citizens are still hoping that their suggestions will be heard -- along with Cowles' report at a public meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Westminster FireHall on Main Street.
"We're looking for a hero," Orenstein said.