WESTMINSTER — Seeking to continue the greening of Westminster, state highway and forestry officials are viewing the East Main Street reconstruction project with a new eye to saving as many trees as possible.
"This isn't a highway, this is Main Street," said Dan M. Uebersax, a landscapearchitect with the State Highway Administration. "It deserves a little bit more time and attention."
Originally, the $2.8 million project called for removing all trees on the street, from Longwell Avenue to Washington Road, to widen the road to 40 feet and upgrade sewer and water lines.
However, public outcry over the loss of trees and sidewalk space and the widening of the road spawned a new proposal and an eight-member task force that met last week.
The proposal would leave Main Street at its current width (32 to
38 feet) and install rounded, bricked "bubbles" ornodes into the road to accommodate both trees and pedestrians.
The bubbles -- which extend the sidewalk slightly out into the street and decrease the crosswalk length -- are part of the effort by planners to make the street "pedestrian friendly," said Charles Adams, chiefof the SHA's landscape architecture division. The 6-foot-wide bubbles would replace existing parking spaces.
"What we've done is emphasize the pedestrian environment," Adams said.
However, because thenodes would eliminate up to 35 parking spaces, planners must cooperate with individual property owners to discover whether the parking orthe trees are more important.
Two members -- newly elected Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein and county landscape planner Neil Ridgely-- walked the route with State Highway Administration and State Forestry Division officials Wednesday morning to see which trees could besaved
under the new plan.
"We want to look at what's here today, what was here in the past and what the future will be," Uebersax said. "Plans can't be solidified until you find out some of the reasons things are the way they are."
He said the trees in front of the Opera House at 140 E. Main St. were wedding gifts to the owner, George Trump, from his wife.
Uebersax also said the sidewalk would lookless stark if pits were provided for residents to plant flowers and shrubs in front of their homes, noting the ones planted in front of Legg Mason at
119 E. Main.
"The shrubs and ground covers can provide as much character as the trees," he said.
However, planners agreed citizens should be prepared for the fact that some trees -- although healthy now -- may be removed if planners decide they will not survive the stress of construction.
"The bigger and older the trees, the harder they are to save," said Donna Baker, a project foresterfor the Maryland Research Forestry Division. Dying trees will be replaced if a pit has been planned for that area, she said.
The project, most of which will be paid for by the state, is to include sidewalk and road improvements and installation of storm-water drainage pipes.
One aspect of the draft that raised concern along Main Street is a proposal to remove 35 of 178 existing parking spaces -- a 19 percent reduction -- in an effort to preserve trees and improve sidewalks and pedestrian crossings.
Since its May 7 unveiling, the latest proposal has prompted worry among merchants in an area already strapped for parking.
However, state planners and task force members stressed that the plans are preliminary and likely will undergo revision.
"Nothing's final," Adams said.
The removal of the parking spaces would allow for the preservation of 24 existing trees, he said.
Orenstein said a comprise between reducing parking spaces and saving trees likely would be forged.
"It's like a dream plan, and it won't end up like that," she said. "Now we have to take it and make it a real plan for our city."
The project has been the subject of controversy since it first
was proposed last September. The state owns the road but will turn it over to the city upon completion of the project.
State officials said the road needed to be widened to a uniform 40-foot width for safety reasons.
But Main Street residents and merchants argued that a wider road would invite more traffic. They also complained about the loss of sidewalk frontage and trees the first plan would have required.
The City Council decided to review the project when state administrators said money for the project would not be jeopardized by a planning delay. With complaints growing, city fathers established the task force to seek alternatives.
As a result of concerns over the latest proposal, the task force will invite a member of the city's Parking Committee to join the groups at its meeting next month.
In addition, state planners said they will meet individually with the City Parking Committee and the Westminster Business and Professional Association to address concerns.
"There's got to be a combination whereby we can keep some of the trees and have nice-looking sidewalks . . . and maintain as many parking spaces aspossible," Parking Committee Chairman Wayne Barnes said.