Makeover approved for York Road area Enough approvals from Towson property owners spur project

July 31, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

With a deadline looming, Towson's business district makeover got a green light yesterday, allowing the highly touted economic development project to proceed on schedule along with a planned traffic roundabout.

Baltimore County officials announced they had obtained the required number of approvals from property owners to add brick sidewalks, greenery and ornamental lighting to the York Road district -- improvements seen as a way to boost business and improve the town's image.

"It is absolutely key to the revitalization of the downtown area," said Towson Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley. "[Towson] is doing well but this will pull it all together."

The county needed to meet a Thursday deadline so that work on the street makeover and the State Highway Administration's roundabout at the north end of town simultaneously. Now, the streets of Towson will be torn up only once, minimizing disruption to merchants, planners said.

The projects, which will take at least a year to complete, are expected to start with utility work in the fall. Most construction is expected to occur at night.

"Today is a great day for Towson and [the improvements] will bring more people into Towson," said Michael H. Davis, a spokesman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III. "The county is pleased with the number of owners in the York Road corridor that agreed to it." So far, 33 property owners have signed agreements, or letters of intent, with the county. The county needed 30 of 46 owners to meet a required two-thirds quota.

The county will continue efforts to talk with those who have not endorsed the project, said Steve Lafferty, manager of neighborhood revitalization for the Office of Community Conservation.

Part of the problem in obtaining signatures has been contacting absentee landlords and waiting for attorneys to examine the papers for their clients, he said. "It slows down the whole process."

But some owners objected to elements of the design, such as the placement of a tree, or to a new five-year tax assessment.

Each property owner, regardless of signing the agreement, is required to contribute to the $2.5 million streetscape project according to a formula based on a property's street frontage. It translates into about $135 per foot.

One opponent, LeRoy Y. Haile, whose family's 73-year-old real estate agency is located on Chesapeake Avenue, said recently, "I'm in favor of beautification but not the county's assessment. My cost would be $1,000 but I could spend it on better things."

But rather than pay the assessment in taxes, business owners will have the option of applying the amount they are assessed toward renovations for building exteriors, with the aid of interest-free county loans and free architectural services.

For Brian Recher of Rec Room Billiards on York Road, who already has made required improvements to his family's former movie theater, business can only get better.

"It's going to be great," he said. "It will bring people here. It will enhance the whole area."

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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