Foes of parking lot repaving glad it's halted for moment

November 26, 1992|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

A group of Ellicott City merchants in the historic district have won a temporary stay against the repaving of a parking lot. The work, they say, has chased away potential customers and driven down sales by as much as 85 percent.

"I feel satisfied," said Melissa M. Fulton, owner of Celebrate Maryland! "I feel the county recognized their responsibility but not without pressure."

About 14 shopkeepers met yesterday with Public Works Director James M. Irvin to discuss the parking lot, behind the Ellicott Mills post office on Main Street.

The lot will remain open until Sunday. If the weather is warm, construction could resume during a midweek night to avoid Midnight Madness, an annual festival in which Ellicott City shops stay open one night until midnight. The festival begins Friday.

"We need to resolve this," Mr. Irving said in the meeting at the county office building. "We don't need a war."

But Barry Gibson, president of the Ellicott City Business Association, refused to be consoled by the compromise. "They should have kept their commitment beforehand," said Mr. Gibson, whose wife, Nancy, owns the Forget-Me-Not Factory on Main Street.

Ms. Gibson said her daily sales have dropped about 20 percent in the past month. "October was great until they began working on the lot."

Since September, the Department of Public Works has been resurfacing the parking lot, installing lights, restoring a wall, improving storm drainage pipes, and adding curbs and gutters. Two deadlines to complete the work have already passed.

Public works officials now say they need at least five to six more days of good weather to complete the project, which would involve temporarily closing the lot. But shopkeepers say ongoing construction and past closures of the parking lot have driven away potential customers during the crucial holiday period.

Antiques merchant B. J. Clark said he has suffered major losses since work began nearly three months ago.

"It's ridiculous," said Mr. Clark, who says he has earned slightly more than $1,000 since the beginning of November. During the same period last year, he made nearly $2,000.

Mr. Clark said the work has forced him to close his store for five days. Now, he said he doesn't have enough money to purchase new stock or pay his rent and utility bills for December. "I feel like they're forcing me out of business," he said.

"We have been battered by the recession, plus we have a shortage of parking," Ms. Fulton said. "Ellicott City can't take one more knock at its parking."

The historic area, which has 863 parking spaces, may receive more under a tentative agreement between Howard and Baltimore counties. The two counties have agreed to jointly build an 82-space parking lot in Oella, near Oella Avenue and Route 144. The proposal still needs the approval of the Baltimore County Council, and possibly, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Yesterday, construction workers attempted to clear away debris and equipment, and paint temporary lines delineating aisles and parking spaces. Next week, at night, the Public Works Department hopes to complete a layer of pavement to aid drainage, and prevent ice from forming in potholes.

Initially, shopkeepers urged the county to wait until January, after the holidays, to complete the project.

But officials with the Department of Public Works said construction cannot wait until January because the contractor, the Matricciani Co., has a 40-day contract to fulfill.

Should the Baltimore company exceed the contract time, it would be penalized $500 a day, officials said.

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