City land eyed for renewal

Route 27 corridor envisioned as gateway

Homes, stores, offices proposed

Officials to package lots, gauge developer interest


March 23, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Driving southwest into Westminster on Route 27, visitors pass a few warehouse buildings, a car dealership, a city maintenance garage and several parking lots before reaching downtown.

Westminster officials hope to change that by transforming the city-owned parking lots and other properties along the corridor into residential and commercial space.

The city wants to solicit ideas from developers on how they would convert those properties into homes, offices and stores. The initiative is being dubbed the "Ferguson plan," after Councilman Thomas K. Ferguson, who made the proposal during a work session on economic development this month.

The idea, Ferguson said, builds on efforts to make over the Route 27 corridor as a gateway to Westminster. A year ago, a study recommended that the city turn underutilized properties into a mixture of homes, stores and offices.

"Fortunately, the city owns a fair amount of property along that corridor, and I think the fundamental question is unless we take some pro-active approach here, how would we ever enact or initiate any of the ideas and concepts that came out of the Route 27 study?" Ferguson said, noting his proposal was an outgrowth of ideas that had been floating around for years.

"It was a nice study, but if you don't do anything with it, it sits on the shelf and gathers dust," he said.

The city has taken several steps to incorporate the concept of a Route 27 gateway into its economic redevelopment strategies.

In December, the Common Council approved mixed-use zoning along the corridor to allow commercial, office and residential space. The city is expected to begin the process of rezoning properties along Route 27 in the summer, said city planner Shawn Siders.

Other projects in the city's downtown have tied in with plans to rejuvenate Route 27, also known as Railroad Avenue. The Longwell and Westminster Square parking garages opened in September; the pedestrian mall at Locust Lane has been completed, and Westminster Square, at Liberty and Green streets, is almost ready to open.

"We're recognizing the success of downtown and redevelopment that has already occurred," Siders said. "In order to enable more of that, we have to be in a position where we're flexible to allow greater development downtown. The so-called Ferguson plan takes us into that direction."

Under the plan, city officials would package surplus city properties and invite the private sector to make development proposals. The city would be under no obligation to accept or to act on the proposals.

Possible sites include the 200-space Conaway parking lots, the Sherwood parking lot and the city's public works building - all of which are on Route 27.

"The theory is if we could consolidate some large parcels into one offering, it makes it more attractive for potential developers," said council President Damian L. Halstad. "It gives them more flexibility and more possibilities and brings new talent to the table."

Added Ferguson, "What I'm advocating is that we be open and see what comes back to us."

None of the properties identified so far has been declared surplus, officials said, but the parking lots on Route 27 seem like good candidates because the city built two garages near them.

City planners are in the preliminary stages of developing a framework to implement the Ferguson plan, Siders said. By late spring or early summer, the city hopes to put out its first request for proposals, Siders said.

"This is implementing a very generic plan of the Route 27 plan," he said. "It's putting some substance into that recommendation and putting it out there."

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