Parking lot at government center to be expanded

January 19, 1995|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

When attorney Fred Howard Silverstein has a case in Howard District Court, he tries to arrive about 45 minutes early -- not to consult with clients or witnesses, but so he can find a parking space.

"If you get there after 8:30 [a.m.], you're going to do a lot of walking," the Ellicott City lawyer said.

For years, the lack of parking has posed major problems at the county's Multi-Service Center, an Ellicott City building that is home to District Court and several busy state agencies. The cramped lot doesn't even have enough spaces for employees to park.

Officials said they hope the problems will be eased within the next four months, when a $300,000 expansion will add 101 spaces to the 250-space lot.

Thomas Barwick, manager of the service center, said he expects more relief when the county Department of Social Services moves its 120 workers from the building to new quarters in Columbia this spring.

Mr. Barwick knows about the parking problems all too well. He said the issue stirs up more complaints from the public than the hefty fines in traffic court.

"I get them almost on a daily basis," Mr. Barwick said.

The service center, built in 1982, didn't always have parking problems, Mr. Barwick said. But as the county's population grew, he said, the demand for government services increased and the District Court's caseload expanded.

There are 250 parking spaces, but 260 full- and part-time employees work at the agencies in the building.

The lack of parking forces scores of citizens going to such agencies as the Department of Juvenile Services and the Department of Parole and Probation into a desperate search for parking. Also looking for spaces are dozens of police officers, attorneys, defendants and witnesses coming to District Court for hearings on traffic, criminal or civil matters.

Vendor benefits

Thomas Jordan of Ellicott City has a bird's-eye view of the parking woes from a hot dog stand he operates outside the entrance to the service center.

He watches motorists drive up and down the rows in search of the nearly impossible -- a parking space. A security guard stands in the lot when court is in session, shooing motorists away from parking in the fire lanes and advising them to park along nearby streets, Martha Bush and Courthouse drives.

But for Mr. Jordan, the problems are good for business.

"Employees don't want to lose their parking space," said Mr. Jordan, who has been dishing out hot dogs, nachos, snacks and sodas for about 18 months. "They eat here instead of going out to lunch."

Looking for space

When Towson attorney Michael Reicher came for civil court yesterday, he went around the lot looking for a space without success. He then tried Martha Bush Drive, but again didn't find a place. Courthouse Drive was full, too.

He ended up parking across Courthouse Drive at one of the lots for the county government buildings.

"I've never had this problem before," said Mr. Reicher, who was involved in one of 47 cases scheduled for the court's afternoon docket.

Terry Fasick, an Annapolis woman who came to testify in a civil case yesterday, was persistent and eventually found a parking space in the service center's lot.

"I drove around 15, 20 minutes, just watching people walk out to their cars and hoping to get their space before someone else did," she said.

The parking situation is extremely frustrating, she said. "You start to panic, especially when you're supposed to be some place at

a specific time."

Mr. Silverstein, the Ellicott City lawyer, said he's happy about the expansion of the lot.

"I think that it will go a long way of resolving the problems," he said.

He said that the added space should alleviate a dangerous situation by reducing the need for motorists to park along busy Courthouse Drive, which has no sidewalks or crosswalks.

County land bought

He and several other county lawyers petitioned state and court officials to do something about the problem two years ago. The attorneys urged court officials to spread court hearings throughout the day -- rather than lumping dozens of them into either a morning or an afternoon docket.

But officials said the best way to solve the problem was to build a larger parking lot.

To make way for the new lot, the state -- which operates the service center -- purchased more than 10 acres of county land for about $275,000 last year, Mr. Barwick said.

The new parking lot will be built on just about 1 acre of the land, he notes, so there will still be room to grow.

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