Officials prepare land deal for park Downtown plot split by zoning board before purchase

October 12, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Westminster Planning and Zoning Commission has subdivided a downtown parcel of land in hopes of transforming it into a focal point of the business district, complete with a kiosk and a directory of local shops.

City officials plan to buy the parcel, at the foot of Locust Lane, from the Rosenberg family this fall, said Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works. The Rosenberg family was the former owner of Hub Furniture Center in Carroll Plaza.

"It's one of the last green spaces in the downtown area," Beyard said of the grassy, 2,100-square-foot parcel off Main Street across from Carroll County Public Library. "There is a strong interest in the community to retain that as a downtown commons."

In recent years, small parks such as the one Westminster officials are hoping to acquire have gained popularity. Frederick, Hagerstown, and York, Pa., have such parks, Beyard said.

Westminster's park would be home to a kiosk and a directory of local shops. The project would be part of a larger plan to improve downtown's appearance.

City officials, in partnership with Carroll County Arts Council, will commission an artist to paint a mural on the exterior of the Optical Solution building at 47 E. Main St., Beyard said. The wall serves as a backdrop to the Locust Lane site where the kiosk would be built.

A 10-member committee of residents, artists and business leaders is developing a theme for the mural, said Karen K. Blandford, manager of the city's Office of Housing and Community Development. The committee will sponsor a contest to select the artist to create the mural.

"The committee is working to finalize the criteria for the contest," said Blandford. "We are hoping to dedicate the mural at Fallfest next year."

New zoning category

After voting unanimously to subdivide the Locust Lane site, the Planning and Zoning Commission also discussed a new zoning category that could clear the way for village-style shopping centers near several residential areas.

During its monthly meeting Thursday, the panel held a two-hour workshop on the design standards for the city's new "neighborhood commercial zones," such as a 35-foot height restriction on buildings, and a ban on flags and pennants.

It was the commission's second public discussion on the new zoning category. During a workshop last month, the commissioners talked about banning certain uses -- such as bowling alleys, churches and department stores -- in the new commercial zone.

Restrictions on stores

Both discussions were guided by suggestions that a six-member Citizens Advisory Committee had forwarded to the commission during the summer.

After meeting with city planners several times, the citizens group suggested that stores in the new zoning category be limited to 20,000 square feet and designed to blend with the aesthetics of nearby homes. They also recommended that local leaders prohibit large outlet stores and 24-hour operations in the neighborhood commercial zones. Their recommendations will be addressed at workshops yet to be scheduled.

The five-member Planning and Zoning Commission plans to take a daylong tour of commercial areas in the Baltimore area before further discussing the new zoning category. That tour is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 12.

Public hearing planned

After they finish their workshops, the commissioners could send the proposed zoning text back to city planners for revision or forward their recommendations to the mayor and Common Council.

Local leaders are expected to vote on the language of the new zoning category this fall, after holding a public hearing.

The new zoning category would be consistent with the city's comprehensive land-use plan, which was adopted in June. The plan, the city's first in 13 years, resulted from more than a year's work by city planners and the Citizen Advisory Committee. The plan will be in effect for six years.

Three sites identified

Three properties were identified in the comprehensive plan as possible sites for neighborhood commercial zones.

A 17-acre portion of the Koontz farm, on the western edge of Westminster, is one of the properties that could be designated for this new type of commercial development -- despite opposition by nearby residents.

The site, across from Western Maryland College on Route 140, is zoned residential and permits construction of homes on half-acre lots.

The other two sites are a 1.8-acre parcel behind Westminster Veterinary Hospital and a nearby 20-acre lot. Both are on Route 31.

Pub Date: 10/12/98

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