Trade on your history, town told Consultant suggests keeping up storefronts, improving south entry

November 26, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville should redevelop Main Street without changing its character, maintaining century-old storefronts and trading on a history entwined with the Patapsco River and the railroad, a new study recommends.

The town of 3,500 residents might draw neighboring Howard County into the process, asking for its help in improving a key entrance, according to the consultant's study, which was made public Monday.

"How we enter the town is as important as what is there," said Sean D. Davis, an architect with LDR International of Columbia, an urban design company working on the project.

Davis identified three primary entrances to Sykesville from Route 32 but gave precedence to the southern entry from Howard County. The first glimpse from that road is an old warehouse on an overgrown lot along the Howard side of the Patapsco. The heart of the town is across a concrete bridge in Carroll.

"The entrance to town from Howard County is critical; it must be the strongest and most emphatic view," said Davis. "You have to improve that image."

When he asked whether residents were willing to invest tax dollars into restoring and maintaining another county's property, heard a resounding "yes" from about 75 residents attending a public hearing on revitalization Monday.

More than a decade ago, town officials tried unsuccessfully to annex the river property. They have said they would probably not repeat that effort. The town and county might enter into a binding agreement on the management of the property, "a cross-party agreement that happens every day," Davis said.

Howard County will never allow the town to annex the property that adjoins park land but might consider a long-term lease, Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said.

"Our investment at that entrance is key," Herman said. "We have all rented space and improved it. It is only protecting our own investment."

Residents also said they want to keep downtown's historic look while adding businesses that draw residents and tourists.

"Whatever we do, we must keep the historic flavor of Sykesville," said Richard Barry of Springfield Avenue.

Few business vacancies

There are few vacancies in the business district, but residents decried the loss of such things as a hardware store. A mixture of service and retail establishments such as the antiques stores thriving on the street would work as long as the concentration is on specialties, Davis said.

"The services will service residents of Sykesville and could generate pedestrian traffic," he said. "The specialty shops will attract outsiders."

A coffee shop, a bakery, a fresh produce stand, a bookstore and weekend events would bring people downtown, Davis said.

"Where do you find the entrepreneurs?" asked Loriann Pfefferkorn, owner of a Main Street antiques business who has purchased a three-story building on the street with plans to open the Sykesville General Store.

The answer may be that if opportunity exists, entrepreneurs will come, Davis said.

The task of turning Sykesville's vision into reality falls to Kann and Associates of Baltimore, architectural consultants hired to launch the revitalization.

"Our challenge is to develop a recognizable plan and a strategy to implement it," said Donald R. Kann. "We need to maximize the use of public funds and inspire private investment."

Kann's staff would be the catalysts for discussion, he said Monday at the first of several public hearings.

"Here is your chance to dream a little about your town and what you might be able to do," Kann said.

Month of study

Staff members spent a month studying the street system, calling on business owners and residents. They attended local events, including the fall festival last month, and met at length with officials and community leaders. They studied town history and looked at its future, and paid particular attention to properties on its borders.

"They want us to put everything on the table," said Herman. "We tell them what we want and they tell us how to do it."

The town "has maxed out on the bang for its buck," the mayor said of the $16,000 it paid for the consultant study.

Kann will focus on Main Street from the Howard County line to Springfield Avenue. The report also will address the impact of annexation, commercial development and Route 32, often called the Sykesville Bypass.

"What happens outside of Sykesville has an immediate impact on the town," Davis said.

Annexation possible

Sykesville could increase its business opportunities if it succeeds with a proposal to annex 131 acres of state property at Springfield Hospital Center. The town also wants to attract business to Raincliffe Center, its only remaining industrial property on Route 32. Officials must decide what it will allow developers to build on Sandosky Road, another key entrance.

Road improvements, increased parking, a sidewalk system and recreational opportunities are integral to the downtown revival, residents said.

Improved ties with the railroad could be another tourist attraction. The local model railroad club draws more than 1,000 visitors annually to its exhibit in a renovated rail car.

Excursion trains

Michael F. Rice, planning commission chairman, said running excursion trains on existing tracks would be another asset.

"It is amazing how far people will travel just to take a train ride," Rice said.

The consultants plan "to soak up all ideas" and schedule another hearing after Jan. 1, Kann said.

"We will stir your ideas and solutions around as we develop the master plan," he said.

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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