Westminster OKs bid for decorative lights along main artery

Pennsylvania Ave. beset by crime, code violations

October 13, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Two years after a committee of Westminster residents and government representatives came up with recommendations on revitalizing a troubled neighborhood, city officials are going ahead with bringing illumination to a main artery known for its drug activity.

The Westminster Common Council unanimously approved a $218,000 bid to install 17 decorative lights on Pennsylvania Avenue from West Main Street to Union Street. Additional lights will be attached to poles in alleys.

Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works, told the mayor and council at a meeting Monday night that the original estimate for the project was $374,000 and that receiving such a low bid was unusual. The city checked the references provided by the bidder, Pipes and Wires Services Inc., a Westminster contractor, and found them satisfactory.

Beyard said he expects the installation to begin late this month or early next month. The contractor will be responsible for putting the lights up, installing underground conduits for wires and restoring the pavement. The lights are expected to be on by the holiday season.

Two years ago, the lighting project was promoted as a major step toward turning around a neighborhood beset by drug-related crimes, code violations, prostitution and burglary.

In meetings during the summer of 2002, a group of Westminster residents and government officials discussed the rejuvenation of the historic neighborhood around Pennsylvania Avenue and West Main Street. The committee focused on code enforcement, crime prevention, landlord accountability, the local zoning code and homeownership initiatives.

After four months, a 40-member task force issued 21 recommendations in October 2002 that included improving facades, enacting a process to hold landlords more accountable for code violations and increasing the emphasis on community policing. More than half of those recommendations have been adopted by the city.

As part of those sessions, city council members toured the area one night.

"It's quite dark and not entirely safe as it is, and I think this will be a big boost on the street," said council President Damian L. Halstad. "We were all surprised on our walk two years ago. It was pitch black at 9 o'clock at night. Lighting will make everyone's lives easier up there."

A Pennsylvania Avenue resident who was a member of the committee agreed.

"It's taken the two years, but at least we're getting our lights," said Josephine Velazquez. "It's a good step toward improving our neighborhood. You can actually see people walking on the street."

She said she had seen drug dealing in neighborhood alleys.

"It's like going into a haunted house," Velazquez said. "You never know what you're going to find."

She, other residents and city officials said the area has greatly improved since the 2002 meetings. City officials attribute the improved conditions to measures such as an ordinance requiring registration of rental properties and expanding the maintenance code beyond rentals to include owner-occupied buildings.

The city also obtained state grants that encourage homeownership. Part of that money is going toward the lighting project.

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