Study group seeks an improved U.S. 40

Citizens team focusing on corridor's land use and appearance

November 06, 2003|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Building a better U.S. 40 is the goal of a 22-member citizens group that will meet over the next nine months to find ways to improve one of Howard County's most traveled east-west corridors.

The group, called the Route 40 Enhancement Study, met for the first time last week and will direct its main focus to land use and appearance along the Ellicott City thoroughfare, said Steve Johns, a planning supervisor with the county's Department of Planning and Zoning and the project coordinator.

"It's an opportunity for residents and property owners to have input on what Route 40 is going to look like in the future," said Ann Jones, a co-chair of the study group and a Valley Mede resident.

"You're talking about the kind of incremental improvements to make it a vital corridor and continue to make it an asset to the community, instead of letting it become a liability," she said.

At last week's meeting, Johns gave each member a disposable camera "to take pictures of the good, the bad and the ugly in the corridor." The study will examine the stretch of U.S. 40 from the Baltimore County line to Turf Valley Road.

The county's 2000 General Plan targeted the U.S. 40 corridor and the U.S. 1 corridor as areas in need of "enhancement" and "redevelopment," respectively.

"Route 1, being an older corridor, might mean actual redevelopment, where you take down a building and put up something new," Johns said. "On Route 40, a lot of the buildings are of a more recent era, so we're looking at just the roadway and properties immediately adjacent or influenced by the corridor."

He said the U.S. 40 study group, whose members were selected by County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon and County Executive James N. Robey, represents a balance of interests.

Serving with Jones as co-chair is Rob Moxley, a principal with Security Development in Ellicott City, which is developing Kaiser Park, a rental community of townhouses and apartments that is off U.S. 40 and Executive Center Drive. Other members represent small businesses, car dealerships, banks, restaurants and hotels.

Besides Jones, the group includes community activists, representatives from apartment and homeowners associations.

Among the study group's major concerns are issues related to ease of use and appearance, such as access to commercial centers for pedestrians and motorists, signage and traffic.

Member Angie Beltram, who headed a U.S. 40 subcommittee of an Ellicott City master plan panel last year, said a key component to the corridor's improvement is the addition of shared parking lots to consolidate strip shopping centers.

"It cuts down on traffic because once you park, you can walk to places," she said. "We could eliminate some of the entrances and exits."

Beltram also wants to see standards for shopping center signs that call for each store to be listed on the sign, as well as the street address.

Johns said he will help the study group become familiar with improvement options under consideration.

"If they point toward pedestrian improvements ... do they include crosswalks, sidewalks, pathways from neighborhoods into commercial areas?" Johns said.

The County Council, which is considering 2000 General Plan rezoning requests, has postponed any changes in the U.S. 40 corridor until the study group completes its work.

Several residential property owners near U.S. 40 at Frederick Road are seeking to change their zoning designation to commercial. "Everyone's interested to see how this process will work," Johns said. "In a large part, it will determine if they get rezoned."

Johns said he expects the study group's report to be presented to the County Council and Planning Board by summer.

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