Council to hear suggestions for troubled area

Police patrols, incentives for homebuyers sought for Pennsylvania Avenue

Task force generated 21 ideas

Group members to speak at meeting tonight


October 28, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Westminster police should increase their patrols of the Lower Pennsylvania Avenue area, and city officials should provide financial incentives for homeownership, under recommendations to be submitted tonight by a committee formed to rehabilitate the troubled neighborhood.

Those ideas - and others such as installing telephone booths directly linked to police dispatchers - are among the 21 recommendations that the Lower Pennsylvania Avenue Advisory Task Force is to provide to the mayor and Common Council at their meeting.

"This is an example of hitting a problem with everything you've got," said Damian L. Halstad, council president and task force chairman. "That's what this wish list represents."

The committee started meeting in June and finished last month, ending a series of sometimes explosive discussions about the future of the community. Residents, city agencies and police expressed frustration about the area's criminal activity, large number of code violations and sinking property values.

The group, which had about 40 members, also included representatives from state agencies, clergy and nonprofit organizations. The neighborhood includes an area on Pennsylvania Avenue between Monroe Street and West Main Street and on West Main Street between Carroll Street and McDaniel College.

The recommendations will be presented by Halstad and council members Roy L. Chiavacci and L. Gregory Pecoraro, who also sat on the task force. Public feedback will be welcome when those ideas are debated as potential ordinances or as part of other legislation during the next year and a half.

Most recommendations focus on ways to fight crime. Proposals call for creating a database of arrests in the Pennsylvania Avenue area, forming teams that would unite local agencies to contain crime and rehabilitate offenders, and introducing a curfew on the avenue for anyone younger than age 18.

"What was most helpful to me was the citizen input, especially citizen members of the committee weighing in on how these recommendations would affect people living on the avenue," Halstad said.

Westminster resident Darlyn Horgos, 27, suggested installing telephones that would be directly linked to police dispatchers.

"The main point was to have a safe haven," Horgos said. She likened them to emergency stations found along highways.

She formerly lived on Pennsylvania Avenue and witnessed the problems that were spoken of in the meetings. She and her husband, Eric, joined the group after the first session and added their voices to those around the table.

"People don't seem to realize what happens there," she said. "During the daytime, it seems fine, but at night, everybody comes out."

Five of the eight meetings focused on specific topics: municipal code enforcement, crime prevention, landlord accountability, local zoning code and homeownership initiatives.

Other ideas that the group said would promote public safety and act as catalysts for revitalization included installing brighter streetlights and rezoning properties to allow and encourage businesses such as bed and breakfasts, coffee shops and artist galleries and studios.

Some recommendations have been adopted. Additions to the city's property maintenance code were passed requiring registration of all rental properties and expansion of the code to owner-occupied buildings. The city also has submitted a Community Legacy Application seeking $736,000 in state money to help rehabilitate the neighborhood.

Halstad said he expects more of the ideas to move ahead.

"At this point, it's too early to speculate which ones will meet with approval from the council," he said, "but most seem solid."

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