Growth plan aims to keep up momentum Officials to present blueprint for city at meeting Thursday

Public hearing at 7 p.m.

'Lot of changes' since last proposal in '85, planning chief says

November 16, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Westminster wants to fine-tune its future based upon its recent past -- a 12-year span that brought Interstate 795, its first shopping mall and a doubling of its population.

Since the last comprehensive plan was completed in 1985, downtown Westminster is booming with several key renovation projects, new shops and restaurants, and renewed enthusiasm among business and merchants groups.

In fact, planners say, the growing city has unfolded pretty much according to that plan, with development of almost all the land designated for residential and commercial development.

Now, officials hope to keep this momentum going with a sequel, "The City of Westminster Comprehensive Plan 1997" -- a blueprint that reflects the sweeping changes that have fueled recent growth.

It will be presented Thursday to the city's planning commission.

After more than a year of work by city planners and a six-member Citizen Advisory Committee, a plan has been completed that for the first time deals solely with Westminster. The first such document was done with Carroll County in 1971, and the 1985 update included more than 13,000 acres outside the city.

Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works, said the timing is good for a new plan. Carroll County is updating its master plan, which will affect areas around the city; and the state's new Smart Growth law, approved by the General Assembly in the spring, is reinforcing the belief in centralizing growth around urban areas and municipalities.

"There have been a lot of changes since the last plan," Beyard said. "The worst thing that could happen to Westminster is to allow it to stagnate."

The report's chapters detail goals in such areas as land use, housing, transportation, economic development, community facilities and relations with the county -- rated poor.

Beyard characterized the plan as fine-tuning, rather than drastic change. Some of its many suggestions include:

* Creating a "downtown business zone," which would extend Main Street's central business district in four directions. It would recognize the difference between the buildings close to Main Street and the set-back businesses along Route 140.

* Creating a zoning designation for cluster developments, which preserve open space or environmental features by reducing lot sizes. These now require extra zoning hearings.

* Eliminating some right-on-red turns downtown to improve pedestrian safety.

* Adding commercial acreage on Route 140. With high demand for retail space downtown and along Route 140, businesses have been creeping onto land intended for industrial development by obtaining zoning exceptions.

* Designating two small areas along Route 31 as new "neighborhood business zones." A shopping center also is planned on part of a commercially zoned parcel west of Route 31 owned by Western Maryland College.

Population explosion

The city's west-side population has exploded with new neighborhoods since the land was annexed in the 1960s, then heavily developed in the past 10 years. Including the forerunner, the Greens of Westminster, its residents now account for half of the city's 16,000-plus population.

For the thousands who live to the west, Beyard said: "If you want a gallon of milk, you have to go to High's on Sullivan Road or to New Windsor.

"The development is going in where it was intended to go," Beyard said. "I don't think anyone should be surprised at all, as far as the city goes, if you look at the plans."

Noting a need for affordable housing, the plan suggests encouraging developers to devote 20 percent to 50 percent of their projects to rental units, and to offer opportunities for homeownership.

Roads crisscross the map of the future, and the plan lists 14 proposed major street projects -- topped by a Westminster-Route 140 bypass.

The bypass is awaiting federal approval, expected early next year.

The only disagreement on the Citizen Advisory Committee came in a tie vote on the plan's long-range recommendations "to explore the potential for bus service providing a commuter link to the Owings Mills Metro station" and for Maryland Rail Commuter service between Westminster and Baltimore and Washington.

Floating ideas

Katrina L. Tucker, a Westminster planner, said the opponents were persuaded by planning staff members to leave in that recommendation, because "if we don't float an idea, we don't know what the public thinks. The whole process is intended to give the public something to react to."

"I would like to see a healthy turnout," she said of the public hearing.

"I'd like to see people interested and aware of what we have planned -- so it won't come as a surprise."

The public hearing on the plan begins at 7 p.m. Thursday before the city's Planning and Zoning Commission at the Westminster fire hall. Copies are available at City Hall or the Westminster branch library, and comments may be submitted at City Hall before the hearing.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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