Officials question shelter location Permission needed to build facility in Westminster park

Beside Longwell Run

Wetlands area was picked over several other sites

November 21, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Westminster officials say they will ask state and federal environmental agencies to decide whether Carroll County can build a homeless shelter on a site beside Longwell Run.

The decision last week to construct a 3,500- to 4,000-square-foot facility in a county-owned park near Route 140 and Center Street frustrated city government leaders, who say they cannot understand why the County Commissioners chose the sensitive wetlands area over more than two dozen potential sites in and around Westminster.

The stream meanders through a 5.25-acre park in the 200 block of N. Center St. adjacent to the County Office Building. Contractors are finishing a project in the park to stabilize the stream's banks, add trees and gravel bars, and create a wetland to absorb some of the storm water runoff that has caused erosion.

The decision on the shelter site came six weeks after the commissioners decided to truncate a planned four-year, $800,000 project to improve Longwell Run.

The county has spent about $634,000 in federal, state and county money. The commissioners rejected $81,000 of $199,000 in federal and state grants approved for 1997-1998 that would have completed the project.

The commissioners have not formally replied to the request from Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan to reconsider the shelter site.

But Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the site choice is final.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said the city failed to come up with a site that could be developed at the same cost.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he would reconsider only if city government provides an alternate.

"I really don't know see what the city's worried about. [The shelter] is right in our back yard," Yates said.

County officials insist they can build the shelter without affecting Longwell Run. But Yowan isn't so sure.

"We think the jury's still out with any environmental concerns," Yowan said.

State officials have declined to comment publicly until they see the county's plans, but Yowan said some have expressed concerns to him privately about the possible environmental impact.

Longwell Run has suffered for years from storm water runoff from commercial development along Route 140.

The 1.7-mile stream begins near Gorsuch Road and flows northwest to Route 27, where it meets another branch and flows north to join the West Branch of the Patapsco River.

Westminster Planning and Public Works Director Thomas B. Beyard said he will ask the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Army Corps of Engineers to review the county plans for environmental sensitivity. Westminster must approve the project because it lies within city limits.

County Public Works Director J. Michael Evans said a shelter could be built outside the 3.7-acre stream drainage area.

The county plans to build on the north end of the property, behind the 7-Eleven convenience store or AAA Travel Agency that face Route 140.

"I don't expect there to be any special environmental constraints," Evans said.

A new overnight shelter is needed because the county sold the existing 26-bed facility and the Carroll County Health Department building on Stoner Avenue to Carroll County General Hospital in 1994.

The commissioners originally planned to build on Stoner Avenue near the existing shelter, but rescinded that decision in July.

Officials from the county's Bureau on Aging said they were concerned that shelter clients might pose problems for Westminster Senior Activities Center and the Timber Ridge elderly housing complex nearby.

The decision to change the site "created a problem where there wasn't one," Yowan said.

Dell, however, said he never wanted the shelter on Stoner Avenue land that a previous board of commissioners had earmarked for a medical campus.

Yates said he reversed his support for the site after hearing complaints from Timber Ridge residents.

City officials agreed to help look for an alternative after the commissioners announced in July they would build in the parkland, an area historically known as Crowltown.

City representatives were not invited to last week's session at which the commissioners reaffirmed the Crowltown property, and are demanding an explanation of why 27 other possible sites within a five-mile radius of Westminster were rejected.

"Obviously, we were naive in thinking the county would join in working with the city on resolving this difficult issue," Yowan wrote the commissioners. "It is our understanding that a large number of sites were discounted for specious reasons."

Dell said the park site rated highest with county employees who assessed properties for location, transportation and other factors.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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