Can new trees, street lights and benches make a street more appealing to shoppers?
Bel Air town planners think they can. And so they've proposed such additions along Bond Street to lure walkers, shoppersand maybe developers.
Planners say they've found shoppers and walkers forsake a stroll along Bond Street for one along Main Street. The reason: the street doesn't seem friendly enough for a stroll along it.
"It looks like an alley rather than a street in its own right," said Carol Deibel, Bel Air's director of planning.
Another example, she notes, is the west side of Bond Street and the intersection of Churchville Road.
"You cannot cross that street if you're a pedestrian," she said.
Another problem: "There's the town parking lot, the county parking lot, the state parking lot and a number of private parking lots along Bond Street."
But those are problems town planners believe can be changed to improve business opportunities on both Main and Bond streets.
Town planners have presented to Bel Air business and property owners a draft plan to rejuvenate Bond Street.
The plan includes suggestions for changes to building designs and adding landscape requirements.
Revitalizing Bond Street also could be important to Bel Air because it could broaden the town's tax base, Deibel said.
Property taxes generated by a parking lot are less than those generated by a building for commercial or office use, she noted.
Lester Feinberg, a Bel Air lawyer who is president of the Bel Air Business Association, said he was unfamiliar with the details of the proposal but added that he supported the idea of promoting Bond Street as a business area.
"Part of Bond Street is basically the back of Main Street," said Feinberg. "If this plan promotes the vitality of an area, that's great for everybody."
One reason Main Street shops are successful, Deibel said, is that people are more comfortable walking along Main Street because the sidewalk is wider than the one on Bond Street. Also, the Main Street walkway is buffered from traffic by strategically placed shrubbery, said Deibel.
"When people are more comfortable walking, they want to stop in the store," Deibel said.
"The BondStreet corridor has great potential, but it just doesn't have the same image as Main Street or the retail vitality of Main Street. We're looking at ways to bring that vitality to Bond Street."
A report by the consulting firm of Whitney, Bailey, Cox and Magnani has identified other problems that must be overcome if Bond Street is to be revitalized.
Problems identified in the report include expansive areasof asphalt, excessive curb cuts in the sidewalk, numerous vacant lots, overhead utility lines, and excessive and inappropriate signs outside some businesses.
One suggested improvement is to change Bond Street from a three-lane street between Gordon Street and PennsylvaniaAvenue to a two-lane street. Another suggested change is to relocateutility lines underground.
Deibel said the town will survey business and property owners and consumers to see what changes they suggest for Bond Street.
"Once the surveys are read, planners will conduct another public meeting to discuss their proposals. That meeting probably will occur in April, said Deibel.
In May, town planners would like to use 25 feet in a town parking lot to create a "streetscape" with trees, shrubbery benches, lighting and wider sidewalks, to show residents, business owners and potential developers how such improvements might help Bond Street, Deibel said.