Don't delay Towson make-over Baltimore County: Merchants have much to gain, little to lose, by endorsing project.

July 26, 1996

BY THEMSELVES, new brick sidewalks, landscaping, benches and lampposts probably will not rejuvenate downtown Towson. But they are an essential part of breathing new life into a business district that, like so many others, has suffered at the hands of malls built on the outskirts.

To resurrect themselves, old downtowns must give people what they can't get at the mall. Besides the right mix of retail and entertainment, that includes a certain charming ambience. Who wants to traipse along shoddy sidewalks if they can enjoy the modern splendors of Towson Town Center?

This is why it's shortsighted and counterproductive for property owners in the Baltimore County seat to balk at paying a fairly modest tax assessment to help offset the cost of a $2.5 million streetscape overhaul. The county is asking property owners to pay $135 per foot of street frontage, to be paid over five years. For a small shop with 30 feet of frontage, that's about $4,000, or $800 a year.

Yes, there's a risk that business owners won't recoup their investment if downtown revitalization stops there. Experience everywhere, from Annapolis to Pikesville to Westminster, shows that reviving downtowns is tricky business. But without a pretty street- scape to attract new shops and entice shoppers, the existing businesses are in for trouble.

The county needs 30 of the 46 affected property owners to agree to help finance the street- scape; so far they have fallen a little short. If they don't get the required number by next Thursday, the project will not start this fall as planned along with construction of a traffic roundabout at the dreaded juncture of Allegheny Avenue and Joppa, York and Dulaney Valley roads. The plan will not, however, be abandoned if the county misses the Aug. 1 deadline.

The Ruppersberger administration considers this a vital project. If next week's deadline passes, officials will keep trying to allay property owners' concerns and to track down absentee landlords who still don't know about the streetscape plan. But property owners can help avoid headaches if they endorse the street- scape now, so construction of it and the roundabout can occur simultaneously this fall. No one in his right mind wants to see the heart of Towson torn up any more often than necessary.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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