Greening of U.S. 1 area finds support in survey

Parks, sidewalks, quality development desired for corridor

North Laurel

May 24, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Residents and business owners who attended a recent workshop on the future of Howard County's U.S. 1 corridor overwhelmingly favored aggressive actions to overhaul the 10-mile strip, county data released yesterday showed.

About 130 people attended a March 17 "community quality survey" held by a New Jersey consultant as part of the county's effort to revitalize the U.S. 1 corridor, whose rough-edged appearance has long contrasted with the rest of the county.

Answers to questionnaires completed at the event reflect a strong preference for adding park space, building better sidewalks and shifting the strip's focus away from retail and light industrial uses.

A committee of business owners and community leaders has been discussing how to overhaul the corridor for the past six months and is expected to release an initial report late next month. Yesterday, committee members involved in the revitalization effort hailed the survey results as a sign that they're on the right track.

They pointed in particular to a question that asked respondents what the top priority for the corridor was. More than half said the committee's planning effort was the most pressing task, ahead of things like road and streetscape improvements.

"This gives us a sense of legitimacy, that this is a smart thing to do," said Dace Blaumanis, the county planner who is assisting the committee.

Those attending the workshop, 40 percent of whom said they live within a quarter-mile of the boulevard and 18 percent of whom run businesses on it, shared a vision for a corridor strikingly different from the reality that exists today.

Asked what kinds of uses they would like the county to encourage in the corridor, respondents favored family-style restaurants, cafes, specialty retail stores, medical services and high-tech or government offices. A majority also favored creating more single-family homes and high-end townhouses.

Respondents were far less enthusiastic about bars, outlet stores, big-box retailers, warehouses and auto-related businesses - the uses that dominate the boulevard today.

Parks and greenery

Most striking in the results, said Kevin Doyle, committee co-chairman, was the strong desire for sprucing up the corridor with parks and greenery and protecting the environmental assets it still claims.

"The thing that jumped at us was people saying, `Green, green, green. Give us trees, bushes, flowers.' It's ugly, and the fact it's ugly detracts from businesses being brought in, and from property values," said Doyle, a former president of the Elkridge Community Association.

Doyle also pointed to respondents' demands for sidewalk improvements. Pedestrian safety ranked higher than traffic troubles as the top transportation concern among respondents.

Taller buildings

Asked what kind of zoning should be promoted along U.S. 1, respondents favored a combination of three- to six-story, mixed-use buildings and green spaces.

The community's willingness to accept relatively high buildings as an alternative to the strip development that prevails was notable, Doyle said.

"I don't think people want to see heavy density, but density with quality, yes," he said. "Building for building sake is not what they want, they want controlled growth."

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