Garage plans moving forward

Public discussion at hearing tonight on Longwell Ave. facility

January 14, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Westminster Councilwoman Suzanne P. Albert has had her share of concerns about her city building a parking garage on Longwell Avenue.

For about five years - as long as the Common Council has been considering building the 2 1/2 -story garage - Albert questioned whether more parking was needed downtown, and whether blocking the view of Westminster's historic City Hall with a garage was the answer.

"I needed to be absolutely sure the need was there," Albert said. She said she didn't want to "change the whole downtown and put an albatross there."

But after talking to business owners and residents, to people who won't parallel park on city streets, and to women who feel unsafe parking on downtown streets at night, Albert has changed her mind.

"I have seen and heard that the merchants want it," she said. "They feel it will enhance people coming downtown." And, according to plans for the garage, it would not block views of Emerald Hill, the white Pennsylvania-style farmhouse that houses City Hall.

Tonight, Westminster residents may address city officials at a public hearing about their plan to use $2.6 million in state bond money to build the proposed Longwell Parking Garage. After the hearing, the council likely will approve the ordinance.

The city wants to fund the $2.5 million Longwell Parking Garage through the state's Infrastructure Financing Program, part of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

The parking deck would add about 200 parking spaces to the 125-space Longwell Avenue parking lot, which is in front of Westminster City Hall. Construction could begin in the spring, said Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works.

Westminster plans to pay for the garage in part with money in its general fund derived from parking fees and fines, according to Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro, chairman of the council's finance committee.

"We can and probably will subsidize it from the general fund," he said.

The expense, though substantial, is justified because the city needs the garage, he said.

"A parking garage is an important symbol of Westminster's seriousness about attracting business to our downtown," Pecoraro said. "It says we are willing to do what it takes - that includes significant public investment."

Downtown retailers and shoppers will be relieved to know that ample parking exists, said Lynn Aaron, owner of the Olde Liberty Shoppe, a gift and antiques shop on Liberty Street, and co-president of Westminster Business Association.

"Often when people come downtown, they don't just shop in one place," she said. "The deck could encourage people walking through town."

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