Panel focuses on U.S. 1 corridor's flaws

Ideas offered on how to address problems

North Laurel

January 10, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

A citizens committee that in the past few months highlighted the strong points of Howard County's beleaguered U.S. 1 corridor is now tackling the flaws of the 10-mile stretch.

At a meeting last night at Savage Manor, members of the Route 1 Revitalization Committee heard some sobering statistics from county officials: The U.S. 1 corridor accounts for 15 percent of the county's population, but has about a third of Howard's traffic accidents and is the source of about 20 percent of calls to police.

In addition, county officials reported, the corridor has a host of zoning violations that contribute to an unkempt appearance that is at odds with the well-groomed look of most of the county.

A recent inspection of the corridor found 120 violations of county sign regulations, reported J. Michael Evans, director of the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits."[U.S. 1 businesses] have felt they were far enough away from Ellicott City and Columbia that [the county] would let them get away with stuff they'd never have allowed in Columbia," said committee co-chairman Steve H. Adler, managing partner of Savage Mill.

The committee, which is made of up of two dozen business and community leaders from the corridor, will spend the next year developing a plan to overhaul the area.

Already, some differences of opinion are emerging on the panel about how to proceed.

Before last night's meeting, some members worried the committee was placing too much emphasis on burnishing the corridor's image through improved marketing and not enough on solving problems underlying the public's negative perception of the area.

At the group's earlier meetings, it stressed the corridor's strong points such as the Patapsco Valley State Park, the corridor's prime location and its diverse industries.

At last night's meeting the focus was different.

"Our community feels we have to address real problems before we start promoting it. We don't feel promoting it is really that relevant," said Andrea Ingram, executive director of Grass Roots Crisis Intervention in Columbia.

"At this point, it seems there is more fundamental change needed ... than cosmetic change."

Ingram said other committee members from the central part of the corridor felt the same way because in their area - around the Route 175 intersection - many of the corridor's weak points are concentrated, including prostitution, traffic accidents and abandoned shopping plazas.

Farther north in the corridor, around Elkridge, the view is different, Patrick J. Dougal, a committee member and Elkridge real estate broker, said before the meeting.

Committee members from the Elkridge area believe the panel should focus on improving the selling of points such as Patapsco Valley State Park, Dougal said.

"Each community area is different. In the northern section, I can't think of any blight that you have," Dougal said.

"What we're focusing on is, `What do you have to sell?' and I hope it stays that way."

Last night, the focus was clearly on the corridor's flaws.

Evans said his department was about to launch an enforcement push against the illegal signs. Adler suggested the county again consider passing property maintenance codes for single-family homeowners - a measure that was blocked last year by citizen objections.

"We need minimum housing standards," Adler said.

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