Revamping part of U.S. 1 gains steam

Councilman's 2 groups will try to find ways to bring in businesses

Combating blight is key

Homeless, illegal trade along the strip must be dealt with, leaders say

November 07, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

After years of debate over how to clean up Howard County's portion of U.S. 1, it appears the county may finally be on its way to developing a long-term plan for improvements.

County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a Democrat who represents southeastern Howard, has initiated two efforts that have brought together the business community, residents and political leaders to form strategies to rid the corridor -- from Elkridge to North Laurel -- of blight.

"I really want to get moving on this," Guzzone said at a meeting he convened last week with Laurel city officials to hear about recent improvements they've made to U.S. 1 in Prince George's County.

FOR THE RECORD - A photograph of U.S. 1 in Sunday's Howard County edition of The Sun was taken in Laurel in Prince George's County, not on the Howard County portion of the road, as the caption incorrectly implied. An accompanying story described in part how Howard officials are trying to learn from Prince George's officials how to eliminate blight along U.S. 1. The Sun regrets the error.

"I don't want to miss this legislative session," Guzzone said, referring to the General Assembly session that begins in January. "Maybe there is a possibility of the allocation of state funds to improve parts of Route 1 in Howard County."

Guzzone and others want to change the image of U.S. 1 in Howard. They want to get rid of the prostitution and drugs; crack down on owners who have let properties fall into disrepair; and possibly provide tax incentives for those who decide to relocate their businesses to the corridor.

"We have to have economic development on Route 1," said state Del. John A. Giannetti Jr., a Democrat who represents southern Howard and parts of Prince George's County. "There is visual blight and we need to make sure that there are tools in place to eliminate the blight so that we can move forward."

Giannetti and state Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Republican who represents Howard and Prince George's County, met with Laurel Mayor Frank P. Casula several months ago.

Casula lobbied the legislators for an additional $2.5 million in state money to support the second phase of their improvements, which would include making U.S. 1 more pedestrian friendly, and adding benches and Victorian-style lamps to their historic Main Street.

City officials have repaved cracked sidewalks, installed lighting and attracted businesses to vacant buildings.

"I told the mayor that I would help him get the remaining dollars to complete his revitalization efforts, but asked him for his support in helping Howard County fix up its side of Route 1," Madden said in an interview. "What can the city of Laurel do to help us? I don't know, but I thought any effort required close coordination between the two counties."

Common ills

Some issues cross county lines, such as the prostitution problem, drug dealing, and the large number of homeless men who congregate under a small bridge on U.S. 1 and move back and forth between the counties.

"I want us to work together to deal with the problem of homelessness," Madden told the political leaders assembled at last week's meeting. "Together, we need to deliver the services to these men that will help them to get back on the path of self-sufficiency."

Casula agreed, saying that "if we could solve that problem, it would be the greatest thing we could do."

Though the political leaders brainstormed possible reforms that they would like to see take place along the Howard County side of U.S. 1, none of them had specific plans to make those improvements happen.

"I don't know what exactly needs to be done," said Del. Shane C. Pendergrass, a Columbia Democrat. "I am trying to keep an open mind."

Business leaders' ideas

Some who own businesses along the corridor say that they have concrete ideas about how to transform it from an eyesore to a jewel. Some are members of Guzzone's newly formed Route 1 Revitalization Committee, which will hold its first official meeting Tuesday.

"The county has to step up its enforcement effort and get rid of some of the eyesores," said Allan Cornell, a commercial and industrial real estate agent who sells properties along U.S. 1. "We have to provide incentives for the redevelopment of land."

Cornell said that the government could help by changing zoning. Much of the corridor has been zoned only for industrial use, making it difficult for commercial businesses to move in.

Steve Adler, managing partner of the Savage Mill, said he became involved in U.S. 1 issues several years ago, when former Howard County Councilman Dennis R. Schrader brought together area business leaders and residents to address concerns.

"This was a natural progression for me," Adler said. "I have a stake in the region, and what surrounds the Mill is of concern to me."

During his race for county executive last year, Schrader urged revitalization of U.S. 1. But when he lost, some said that the momentum for cleaning up the corridor also died.

"I must commend Mr. Guzzone for getting things started again," Cornell said. "Things were quiet for a while."

It is unclear what role County Executive James N. Robey will take in Guzzone's effort, but his assistant, Herman Charity, said that Robey is interested in making improvements along the highway.

A good start

"A lot of good things are beginning to happen on Route 1," Adler said, pointing out the recently built CarMax and Weis supermarket in North Laurel. "It has to continue.

"We would love to get incentives for people to invest here -- it's a good area to do business."

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