Robey to seek help for U.S. 1

New hire would work with corridor group studying revitalization

January 21, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive James N. Robey announced yesterday that he will request in this year's budget a staff position to work with a committee planning the revitalization of U.S. 1 and $50,000 for consulting services.

Robey offered the proposals in his State of the County address, which he presented to an audience at the Hilton Hotel in Columbia. Revitalizing older communities -- especially the U.S. 1 corridor -- is a priority for his administration and more county funding would be provided, Robey said.

"I see Route 1 as a very special area to Howard County because of its proximity to the airport and to Interstate 95," Robey said after his speech. "There is a committee formed to work on the revitalization, and I wanted that committee to feel like it had the kind of resources it needs in terms of county budget support and staff support."

A plan to improve the stretch of U.S. 1 from North Laurel to Elkridge has gathered steam in recent months with the formation of a panel of business leaders, community activists and politicians who are devising strategies to rid the area of blight and attract more businesses.

The county portion of the effort will be headed by the Department of Planning and Zoning, Robey said.

The executive said the staff person would work with the revitalization committee to attract federal and state funding for the project.

The $50,000 would be used to hire a consultant to advise the committee as it shapes a plan for U.S. 1.

The announcement was met with enthusiasm by supporters of the revitalization effort. County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat and head of the Route 1 Revitalization Committee, said he believes the timing is right to get improvements under way.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that [Robey] is willing to devote the resources to it because it's those resources that are going to make it happen," Guzzone said. "Route 1 has been on a lot of people's target list for revitalization for a lot of years, and I believe that we have hit critical mass with all the people who are interested."

While the 1990 General Plan had provisions for revitalizing portions of U.S. 1, many have complained that it was not effective.

Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said that under the leadership of Robey and Guzzone, the project has taken shape and the proposed funding would help.

"The good news is that all of the formerly fragmented groups are coming together," Story said. "There's a synergy and momentum now."

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat whose district includes the Jessup area along U.S. 1, said a key component is obtaining federal and state funding.

"The money's there," Gray said. "It's a matter of having a plan and getting our senators and legislators on board and involved."

Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican whose district includes Elkridge, said he was pleased with Robey's announcement, but he wants to learn more about whether the plan would focus on all of U.S. 1 and not just a few communities.

"I think that in order to do this right, we have to look at the entire corridor," Merdon said. "There has to be a comprehensive effort, not just bit by bit."

Guzzone said his group is working on a mission statement and initiatives that will incorporate the ideas of residents and business owners along the corridor.

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