WESTMINSTER — A proposal to expand Emerald Hill -- to provide more office space for cramped city workers -- came under fire from residents, business leaders and even a pair of Boy Scouts.
"The city treasury should notbe drained to build a building," Betty Bish, a Kemper Avenue resident, told the council during a Monday night public hearing on the $3.4 million project.
Residents overwhelmingly agreed additional space is needed for both City Hall and the Police Department, but they argued the money would be better spent leasing office space downtown or renovating the Longwell Armory -- a plan proposed Monday by Mayor W. Benjamin Brown.
Laurie Walters of Park Avenue, urging the council to maintain the "aesthetic value of Emerald Hill," presented the panel with petitions signed by 57 residents who asked that "all available options" be investigated.
One of those options appears to be the mayor's plan. Brown proposed relocating the Police Department to an undisclosed, vacant downtown building. City housing, planning and recreation offices, he said, could be relocated to the armory, which would be renovated once the YMCA and police moved out.
Officials have been wrestling with expanding City Hall for years.
Last summer, a divided council approved a plan that called for a 10,000-square-foot addition to Emerald Hill and construction of an adjacent 17,000-square-foot building for the Police Department.
But when it came time to approve bids for the first phase of that project in December, the council narrowly tabled the bids to look into an alternative -- leasing office space --and to hear public comment.
To many, the key to changing the council's mind on the Emerald Hill project rests with Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr., who initially approved the renovation project, but then voted to table bids for the first phase.
Though receptive to public comment, Chapin isn't saying which way he is leaning.
Brown told the audience of about 75 people that before he was elected mayor, he opposed any expansion plans. However, since working in Emerald Hill, where employees have been forced to work in hallways and storage areas, the mayor changed his mind.
He estimated the cost of renovating the Longwell Armory and a building for the Police Department at about $1.15 million.
"You can't solve the space needs of City Hall without spending money," he said.
Harry Fritz of Uniontown Road told the council he is opposed to adding onto City Hall because there are plenty of places downtown to rent.
Others, such as Shane White,owner of White's Emporium and White's Bicycles and president of the Downtown Westminster Business and Professional Association, and Robert Max, owner of the Winchester Exchange, endorsed the need for additional space but said money also should be spent to provide more parking.
Michael Schumacher, a member of Boy Scout Troop 393, endorsed that idea, too. He also suggested the council look at using the formerwhiskey distillery buildings, owned by the county.