Post office plans up in the air

Officials work to find alternative site for mental health group

July 02, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Concerned with a mental health group's plans to purchase the old post office building downtown, Westminster officials are trying to find the company an alternative site in the city.

Key Point Health Services, at South Church Street in Westminster, has a sales contract with the U.S. Postal Service and expects to settle on the Main Street building by July 15 unless a suitable site is located. The health care company, which also operates in Baltimore and Harford counties, plans to open a residential program at the post office site.

"We certainly would cooperate and see if we can find another location for them," said Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, who confirmed that Westminster's director of planning and public works Thomas Beyard met with Key Point to discuss alternative locations.

The city considers the 70-year-old brick building, at a reported $500,000 asking price, the anchor in its downtown revitalization. Yowan said that despite much interest in the 18,000-square-foot property, which has been on the market for nearly a year, little has come from the commercial sector. A church and a nursing home made offers, he said.

"I don't think any of us representing the city think that this is the best use for the property," Yowan said. "Obviously, it is a service needed in the community, but this is a key property for downtown. We are hoping for mixed retail and offices there."

Downtown merchants are also hoping for offices and shops that would draw customers to Main Street.

"I'd prefer that it be used for offices," said Tony D'Eugenio of Giulianova Groceria at 11 E. Main St. "I do believe we need more pedestrian traffic in town. That's one way to attract business: from CPA firms, law firms."

In a statement issued yesterday, Karl Weber, Key Point's executive director, said he would continue working with the city. The city's reservations about a mental health clinic in the center of downtown are typical, he said.

"I am pleased the mayor and city officials are attempting to find another site for Key Point to be sure the facilities are located in the right place to serve the whole community," said Weber. "It is gratifying to know the town officials are taking a pro-active position to help citizens with mental health concerns."

"We provide services to a large population of the mentally ill," said Karen Byrd, clinical director in Carroll County. "We offer a full range of services to adults and children through community-based programs."

If Key Point proceeds with the post office sale, it could face delays in opening. The City Council voted two weeks ago to suspend business zoning on the post office site and placed a three-month moratorium on development plans and building permits. New downtown zoning regulations could soon be enacted.

"We informed them what was going on," said Yowan. "There could be a much more restrictive zoning in that area. There could be a risk on their part."

Karen K. Blandford, Westminster's manager of housing and community development, said she remains an advocate for helping the mentally ill, but she does not consider the post office an ideal site for Key Point. She also wondered why postal officials did not include the city in its negotiations.

"If there is not a process in place for considering community input, there probably should be, since the federal government tries to influence social change through their investment and procurement policies, you would think they would also consider the impact of their real estate decisions," she said.

John Fisher, Key Point director of finance, said the company is involved in sensitive negotiations with the city. It needs a building at least comparable in size and price to the post office.

"There are a lot of avenues of pursuit when working with the good fathers of the city," Fisher said.

The company would consolidate several of its county services and eventually start a residential program in the building. It maintains a mental health clinic in Westminster and will open a day program for the chronically mentally ill at Washington Heights Medical Center in Westminster next month. A second Carroll County clinic opens Tuesday on College Avenue in Sykesville.

The company began about 15 years ago in Dundalk and opened a second site in downtown Bel Air two years ago. Key Point expanded to Carroll last year and has tripled its patient census and outgrown its space.

"There is room here for clinics such as ours," said Byrd. "Downtown areas are really ideal for us. We need a place that is accessible to our patients. A lot of them are without transportation."

Since the state began downsizing its hospitals for the mentally ill, community-based programs such as Key Point have become viable alternatives, she said.

Pub Date: 7/02/99

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