Council OKs plan to buy downtown lot Former plant site may turn into parking

September 29, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The Westminster Common Council unanimously voted yesterday to move forward with plans to buy a downtown property, with hopes of razing a former fertilizer plant on the site to create a parking lot.

The city has been negotiating since April with Richmond, Va.-based Southern States Cooperative Inc. to buy the 1.15-acre parcel on Railroad Avenue. The two sides agreed on a sale price of $151,760.

Last night's vote clears the way for the city to conduct environmental testing, if needed, on the site. City officials expressed concern about the property because the co-op's fertilizer plant operated there for many years. The plant has been vacant for several years.

"This is an excellent opportunity for the city. It's an extremely good price," said Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works. City officials must agree to buy the property by Nov. 15 and go to settlement by Dec. 1.

Faced with mounting debt and the loss of equity, the co-op shut down its Westminster operations Dec. 31, 1996. The business had operated two sites in the city for 62 years -- on Railroad Avenue and on a 3-acre parcel at John Street and Englar Road, home to a feed mill and store.

In other business, Karen L. Blandford, manager of the city's Office of Housing and Community Development, updated the council on three downtown redevelopment projects: conversion of the West End School into an adult day care center; renovation of the Green Street Homeless Shelter for Families; and redevelopment of the Farmers Supply Co. site.

Each of the projects is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Small Cities Community Development Block Grant Program. The grants are awarded through the state on a competitive basis and administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Blandford told the five-member council that officials at Carroll County Bank and Trust Co., which is redeveloping the Farmers Supply site into a $6 million office and retail complex, have said they will settle on the property within two weeks. The city owns the 1-acre parcel.

Once the transaction is completed, the bank will donate a historic stone building at the site to the nonprofit Westminster Town Center Corp. The group intends to spend about $400,000 to renovate the building, which dates to the 1860s, and then lease the space.

Renovation work at West End School, 7 Schoolhouse Ave., is expected to be completed in November, Blandford said. The nonprofit Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland Inc. plans to open an adult day care center in the building shortly after, she said.

Construction on the two-story Family Shelter at 21 W. Green St. should be completed in January, Blandford said. The building -- which serves intact families, usually both parents and their children -- is getting a new roof, floors and perhaps furniture.

Also last night, the council unanimously adopted two pieces of legislation. The first creates an "Employee Through Employee" program that will allow the mayor to offer a cash bonus of up to $1,000 to municipal employees who recruit new city workers to positions that are difficult to fill.

The program was created with the city's Police Department in mind, Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said. The department has been trying to fill a full-time position for more than a year, said Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo.

The bonus would be awarded in two equal payments. The first payment would be made immediately after the new employee RTC begins working for the city. The final payment would be made two years later if the recruit is still working for Westminster.

The second piece of legislation adopted last night amends the city's nuisance ordinance. The amendment increases fines for nuisance violations and requires code enforcement officers, rather than police officers, to respond to complaints regarding maintenance of properties, odors and noise.

"What this ordinance does is basically free up the police to respond to other situations," said Beyard, who oversees the city's code enforcement officers. "As we all know, the police have their hands full with traffic problems, misdemeanors and other issues."

Pub Date: 9/29/98

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