Work to begin on Westminster parking deck

Garage construction set to begin this week

October 06, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Work is to begin this week on Westminster's largest parking structure, a project designed to make the city's downtown more inviting to shoppers and restaurant patrons.

The city will begin transforming a large portion of a parking lot near Main Street and Route 27 into a three-level parking deck with 300 spaces.

The addition to the Longwell Avenue parking lot will relieve parking pressure downtown and provide spaces for new professional offices that will be built on top of the Locust Lane pedestrian mall buildings.

"What this does is guarantee Westminster's supply of convenient parking places for many years in the future, which allows our downtown to continue to grow," said City Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro. "At the same time, it creates opportunities for us to turn other parking lots into opportunities for economic development."

Pecoraro said that when the garage is finished in nine months, the city would consider renting underused lots to businesses, which then could build on the sites.

Until then, customers and business owners in the construction zone - along with visitors to downtown - will have to endure the disruptions caused by the project.

"This will be the biggest change in how people get around downtown Westminster since automobiles were introduced," said Pecoraro.

Starting this week, the area from Distillery Drive, the center road that divides the Longwell lot into two parts, to Winters Street, where the Locust Lane pedestrian mall is located, will be fenced off. The construction will take away 135 of the lot's 296 spaces. Bulldozers will rip into blacktop and excavate the ground underneath. Then workers will pour tons of concrete as development continues.

Kinsley Construction, which has offices in Finksburg, will handle the $2.85 million project. The company also is building a 162-space parking garage at Westminster Square. At the end of the project, the Longwell lot and deck will accommodate 461 vehicles.

"We'll try to make it so that people showing up to work every day get the parking spaces they need," Pecoraro said.

About 87 of the 175 permit spaces at the Longwell lot will be unavailable during construction, said Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works. Those who can't find parking at Longwell will be forced to use either the public lot behind city hall or the Conaway parking lot across the street, off Route 27.

The shops along Locust Lane will be on the frontlines of the construction, but they stand to benefit from the increased parking spaces.

"I think it's great. It's going to be hard for people down here, but in the long run it's going to pay off," said Lola Clay, owner of The Rubber Stamp Palette Too, a specialty store that sells wooden and rubber stamp molds and materials and offers craft classes. "I'm at an advantage because I have a target audience. My customers will come in, no matter what."

Not everyone is as optimistic.

Tom Schuman, co-owner of the Kountry Kafe and Katering, a restaurant in the Locust Lane pedestrian strip next to the parking lot, said the inconvenience likely will cost him customers.

"I think it's going to drastically affect our business," he said. "If people can't come in to eat in a timely fashion, if they have to trudge through dust and dirt, they're going to find someplace else to go. We may lose customers permanently."

Some of the permit parking at the Longwell lot will be converted to metered parking.

The construction eventually will cause the closure of Distillery Drive.

Beyard said the city will try to hold off on that for as long as possible because of the traffic disruption it will cause.

The new parking structure will have three levels - one sub-level and two decks.

Pecoraro said that the parking inside will be a combination of long-term permit spaces and short-term spaces.

He said the city is looking into an automated payment system.

The decks will extend from Winters Street to Distillery Drive and will be 270 feet long - not quite as long as the current lot.

Westminster has more than 1,100 parking spaces in the downtown area in lots and at meters.

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