Council chooses plan for land

1-acre site to have retail, housing

theater eyed for arts center

February 15, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The Westminster Common Council voted last night to begin a $3.3 million development of the former Farmers Supply Co. property and to commence negotiations to purchase the Carroll Theater for use as an arts center.

Faced with three options for the 1-acre Farmers Supply site, just off Main Street at Liberty and Green streets, city officials chose a proposal from William A. Hasson of Tyler-Donegan Inc. of Hyattstown that combines office, retail and residential space with a city parking garage.

"I think we've dragged our feet long enough on this project," said Councilman Edward S. Calwell. "It's time we started some type of action. That property has just sat there for too long."

Some council members were initially reluctant to support building residential units on such a key business property. But when the Greater Westminster Development Corp. and the Westminster Business Association threw their weight behind the Tyler-Donegan proposal, the officials changed their minds.

The decision closes the long-running saga to find a use for the site, which was identified in a 1994 consultant's report as key to a healthy downtown.

Hasson called his model a "live-work" area in which some tenants could rent second-floor office space and third-floor residences. The first floor would be for retail.

City officials were thrilled in 1997 when Carroll County Bank & Trust Co. announced plans to turn the property into a $6 million corporate complex, featuring 2 1/2 stories of parking and three levels of office space for its headquarters. But in January 1999, the bank was bought by BB & T Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., canceling the project and the 135 new jobs it was to have brought downtown.

The Tyler-Donegan proposal beat out two others that included a commercial-residential mix.

Gerald J. Ryan and David Nesbitt of the Westminster-based Senior Housing Partnership had proposed a $6.3 million apartment building for the elderly and a commercial tower for retail and office space.

Orchard-Rose Ventures LLC of Ellicott City had proposed office, retail and moderate-income senior housing units in a $7.4 million project with more square footage than the others.

The council also voted to begin negotiations to buy the Carroll Theater for $310,000 from the Church of the Open Door, with plans to house the Carroll County Arts Council and possibly other local organizations there.

Roberta Stein of the Westminster Conservatory for the Arts said she was thrilled at the idea of an arts center with downtown exposure, a place to showcase the works of her students.

"Something right downtown where we could be to contribute to business?" she said. "I mean, holy smokes, someplace you could get dinner after 7 o'clock?"

But a couple residents of Parrs Ridge questioned the city's priorities, asking why the council would spend money for an arts center when it won't extend city services to their neighborhood.

"I do support the Arts Council, and I am not against any church but if they have not paid taxes for 10 years, why are we going to give them $310,000?" Ralph Hooper asked.

The city has until April 15 to find funding and complete the deal.

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