Westminster considers downtown development to create gathering spot

Plans call for renovation of pedestrian mall to enhance city's center

February 08, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

In small towns and cities north of the Mason Dixon Line, downtowns often are oriented around a town square or green where pedestrians can sit on benches or on the grass and eat, people-watch and participate in outdoor events such as lunchtime concerts.

Like many communities south of that line, Westminster doesn't have a town square. But city officials are hoping that by renovating a downtown pedestrian mall, they can create one.

Yesterday, local business owners, residents and city and county officials got a peek at the city's plans to make the Locust Lane pedestrian mall safer, more aesthetically pleasing and more accessible to the disabled.

The project, estimated to cost less than $400,000, will tie into the proposed 2 1/2 -level, $2.5 million parking deck the city is building on the Longwell Avenue parking lot, said Karen L. Blandford, manager of the city's Office of Housing and Community Development.

Locust Lane was built in the 1970s and is between Main Street and the Longwell Avenue parking lot. The basic plan, created by McLean, Va.-based consulting engineers Whitney, Bailey Cox & Magnani, calls for:

Repaving the plaza between stores to create accessibility for the disabled.

Removing several large concrete planters and adding an outdoor eating area and a small round concrete stage.

Creating a slightly elevated brick crosswalk between Carroll County Public Library's Westminster branch and Locust Lane.

Using arches and trees between the parking deck and Locust Lane to create an entryway into the shopping area.

The three versions of the plan that were presented contain changes in the placement of the public seating area, the placement of the exit to the parking garage and the alignment of access roads and sidewalks from Locust Lane to the rear parking lots.

The 20 people who attended the meeting questioned Blandford and landscape architect Charles H. Klein of Whitney, Bailey Cox & Magnani about details such as the size of the stage and the placement of seating and signs.

"How do we lure people down that alley [from Main Street] back into these shops?" asked Carroll tourism director Barbara Beverungen. A city ordinance prohibits hanging signs, Blandford said.

But Stanley T. Ruchlewicz, city economic development specialist, suggested adding a kiosk at Main Street to promote businesses along the mall.

Westminster officials expect to use the $192,800 the city received in Community Legacy funds from the state in December to help pay for Locust Lane. The city and private property owners will fund the rest.

The council is expected to hear a presentation on the final design for Locust Lane and the Longwell parking garage Feb. 25. Construction on both projects will not begin until after the city's fall festival in September, Blandford said.

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