Shoppers strolling on Bond Street will be able to stop and rest thisfall on benches in a new park being planned for the corner of Bond and Thomas streets.
The park is expected to be completed by October, but it may be several years before other aspects of the plan to make Bond Street more attractive can be done, town administrators say.
Bel Air residents and shoppers would rather take a walk along Main Street rather than Bond Street, say town planners who are trying tochange the public's perception of the street.
They have drafted aplan that calls for a new streetscape, repletewith new trash cans, benches, more trees and shrubs and a better street design with improved walkways.
A consultant study by Whitney, Bailey, Cox & Magnani identified a series of problems that must be overcome if Bond Street is to be revitalized. The report cited expansive areas of asphalt, numerous vacant lots, overhead utility lines, inadequate walkways and excessive and inappropriate signs outside some businesses as some of the major problems.
The study recommended Bond Street change from a three-lane street to two lanes between Gordon Street and PennsylvaniaAvenue.
The only hitch is that Bond Street is technically a loop from
Route 22 onto U.S. 1 business.
"Which means we have to work through the state and that's going to take time," said Carol Deibel, Bel Air's planning director. "The project has to go on the list of capital improvements and it may be several years before it comes up. The state also has to agree that it should be done."
Philip Humbertson, special projects engineer for Baltimore and Harford counties for the State Highway Administration, said it would be three to five years before the state will consider changes to Bond Street.
"The estimated cost of the changes is $1.5 million," he said. "But with thismoney crunch, as long as the roadway pavement is in good condition, the state won'ttouch it for quite some time."
Deibel said town administrators are planning to work on other aspects of the rejuvenationproject until the roadway can be reconfigured.
A $2,700 park at Bond and Thomas streets is under way to provide an example of how store owners and new developers could improve the look of their properties.
"We'll be able to show them what trees, benches, fencing and lighting we're looking at," said Deibel.
Deibel said the project is important to Bel Air because it could broaden the town's tax base.
"Bond Street is our next major development area as far as retail businesses," Deibel said. "Right now on Bond Street there's the town parking lot, the county parking lot, the state parking lot and a number of private parking lots. But the tax rate from a parking lot is less than the rate for a building that is used for commercial space or office use. And it looks like an alley rather than a street in its own right."
Bond Street's image has suffered almost since the road was opened in 1818; it became known as "Back Street" and was not developed as quickly as Main Street, according to the consultant study.
The study said Bond Street was relegated to a background role when the Baltimore Turnpike, or U.S. 1, was constructed through the town on Main Street instead of Bond.
That turn of events was historically significant because it set the pattern of development based on the wishes of a single landowner, the study said. According to the study, Thomas A. Hays, a prominent Bel Air lawyer and landowner, offered to buystock in the company that was building the turnpike provided the road turned into Bel Air on what is now Main Street, instead of on Bond Street -- as originally planned.