'Gateway' renewal foes start campaign Coalition complains about Eastern Blvd. plan

July 31, 1998|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

A coalition of residents and business owners is raising new concerns about a proposed $5.4 million face lift for Eastern Boulevard -- called the "gateway" to Baltimore County's east side.

County officials' plan to overhaul 1.7 miles of the boulevard from Selig Avenue to Martin Boulevard with sidewalks, curbs and trees is largely welcomed in an area hard hit by the loss of jobs and depressed business prospects.

But traffic pattern changes at openings in the grass median strip and the elimination of road shoulders have prompted coalition leaders to launch a petition drive against the proposal.

Several merchants also continue to complain about the loss of parking space.

"This project was supposed to enhance the area, not further destroy it," said Joseph DiCara, an Essex native and candidate for the House of Delegates, during a community meeting that drew 150 people this week.

Construction of the east side streetscape, the most ambitious such project in county history, is scheduled to start in September. During the past four years, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger has pumped $146 million into eastern Baltimore County, an area long neglected by previous administrations.

Riverdale Village, a dilapidated apartment complex on Eastern Boulevard, is nearly razed, and new housing is expected to be built there. White Marsh Boulevard, also known as Route 43, will eventually be extended from Interstate 95 to Eastern Boulevard. And Ruppersberger wants a tourist attraction developed along the county's 173-mile-long shoreline.

After two meetings with residents and merchants, county officials have made minor changes in the plan to refurbish the stretch of Eastern Boulevard. But complaints now focus on plans to eliminate highway shoulders and replace them with 5-foot-wide sidewalks.

"Where do emergency vehicles go, how will school buses pick up and drop off children, and where will drivers go if they have a flat tire?" asked Janice Hundt, owner of a liquor store and vehicle title and tag service at 1701 Eastern Blvd.

Residents of Hawthorne have also discovered that an opening in the median strip used by motorists to turn from Eastern Boulevard onto Volz and Harrison avenues would be closed.

In addition, an opening would be eliminated near Our Lady of JTC Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, where vehicles arrive and leave for school and church services.

Despite the concerns, Nancy Hubers, a local business leader and candidate for a House seat, urged the coalition not to risk losing the badly needed streetscape.

"Our image was tarnished over the years, and we were so proud to receive $5 million," she said. "We have to get our message across about the flaws in this plan, but we certainly don't want to lose it."

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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