Route 27 gateway proposal presented

Homes, offices, stores envisioned to rejuvenate downtown corridor

February 25, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Turning parking lots into a mixture of new homes, stores, restaurants and offices probably would be the first step in making the Route 27 corridor an inviting gateway to downtown Westminster, according to a master plan presented last night at the city's Common Council meeting.

The Maryland Route 27 Westminster Town Center Plan, which, if approved by the council, could guide development strategies starting in the summer, also calls for efforts to add variety to the retail mix on Main Street and for making it easier for visitors to walk around.

Last year, the state commissioned a $75,000 study to find ways to offer those who travel Route 27 to Main Street a better first impression of the city.

"Out of all the ways you can access our historic downtown, that's the most visible intersection," said Shawn Siders, town planner. "We generally felt that should be the focal point of downtown."

The state hired a Baltimore architectural firm, Design Collective, to study the corridor, which extends along Route 27 from Tuc Road to south of Green Street and from Longwell Street on the east and the Pennsylvania Avenue-West Main Street split on the west. Focus group workshops with government and business leaders were held in July and August.

In September, the city held a four-day design workshop and invited residents to offer ideas for improving the road. At the end of the week, Design Collective and city planners devised a preliminary plan to revamp the road and revitalize downtown.

Nearly all of the ideas discussed then have been incorporated into the version that was submitted to the council last night.

City planners want to rejuvenate Route 27, also known as Railroad Avenue, by making more use of city-owned open spaces that line the road.

Siders said that as soon as construction of the Longwell parking garage, between City Hall and Main Street, is finished this summer, the city will try to sell or lease the two 100-space Conaway parking lots on Route 27.

The plan's strategy, said Siders, is "to get rid of vacant spaces and put buildings in where there's holes."

Visitors arriving in town from the northeast on Route 27 speed past a car dealership, a convenience store, a public works building and the Conaway lots before reaching Main Street.

City planners want Route 27 to provide a preview: tree-lined streets, shops and restaurants close to the street, similar to businesses on Main Street, and on-street parking.

The plan encourages the expansion of the intersection of Main Street and Route 27 into a town square and calls for the rehabilitation of historic buildings.

"Roads such as Route 27, a lifeline to the city, are often plagued by underutilized property or by deteriorating buildings," said Clarence Eng, an urban designer and planner who helped draft the plan. "It becomes inhospitable to citizens and pedestrians and doesn't present a positive image for the overall area.

"If these major roads as gateways have to serve vehicles, they can be designed in a way that's pedestrian-friendly, with a pleasant streetscape. It's really about creating a sense of place that when you arrive in the city of Westminster, it's really a sense of arrival."

The plan is meant to tie in with other downtown projects, such as revitalizing the pedestrian mall at Locust Lane off Main Street and Westminster Square at Liberty and Green streets.

The city also will try to encourage private businesses along the road to be consistent with the city's historic character, Siders said. One resource they can use is the city's facade improvement program, which applies to businesses on Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. In effect since July, it gives $20,000 to each approved applicant who wants to add or repair awnings, lighting, steps, windows and exterior walls.

Siders is optimistic that the corridor can be transformed into the desired gateway within five years. Members of the city staff probably will draft ordinances by summer that would include rezoning of properties to allow the plan to proceed.

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