City Yields On Main Street Project

January 23, 1991|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Maybe it was the sheer volume of their outcry. Or maybe it was theirinvocation of Dr. Seuss.

Whatever caused it, the tide appears to be turning in favor of opponents to the city's East Main Street reconstruction proposal.

The first sign of dissension by a City Council member came at a Jan. 14 public hearing, when William Haifley said he was having secondthoughts about the $2.8 million project.

Then, yesterday, Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said at a news conference that it was time to rethink the plan, which calls for widening to 40 feet the portion of the street from Longwell Avenue to Quintal Road.

"The impact would be . . . downright devastating in some areas," the mayor said.

The catalyst for the growing change of heart, Brown said, has been months of persistent activism by residents opposed to the plan.

"These are people who are concerned enough to focus on the issue and express their concerns," the mayor said. "They're willing to stand up for their own interests. I applaud them."

At the hearing, residents and Main Street property owners complained that the plan calls for cutting dozens of trees, narrower sidewalks, and -- in the view of some -- erosion of the character of the downtown area.

Residents' pleas included quotes from the Dr. Seuss book "The Lorax," a make-believe tree advocate.

Their campaign appears to be working.

Brown said yesterday that a compromise, with the proposed width reduced perhaps to 36 feet, should be considered. The street now ranges from 34 feet to 38feet wide.

"There is a happy compromise in there," he said.

"This comes as very good news, but we're still watching and waiting," said Rebecca Orenstein, a Pennsylvania Avenue resident and founder of TreeAction, a group working to preserve trees along the renovation route.

The mayor said he expects the council to discuss the project further at its meeting on Monday.

Also at the press conference, the mayor offered to compromise on his thus-far unsuccessful campaign to add a second polling location and more elections judges for city elections.

Brown has said he would drop his request for a second polling place and ask only for more judges at the Westminster Volunteer Fire Co. on Main Street, currently the city's sole polling location.

The council received a proposed charter amendment from Brown this month that would empower the mayor to establish an additional pollingplace and hire more election judges.

The mayor has said that withan expected increase in registered voters in Westminster for the May13 city elections, the fire house could be overrun on Election Day.

"It would allow us to prevent an uncomfortable and discouraging day at the polls in May," he said.

But the council has refused to introduce the resolution. Haifley called the proposal "a thinly disguised political gerrymandering maneuver," accusing the mayor of trying to set up a more convenient location for the mayor's supporters, a charge Brown denies.

Councilman Mark Snyder said the mayor's request for additional election judges is a reasonable one.

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