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Havre de Grace considers new beautification projects

Havre de Grace could see major streetscape improvements to the area of the Hatem Bridge entrance and Route 155 and façade improvements to the water treatment plant facing Franklin Street, if the city's economic development department gets its way.

Those are two of the projects proposed to get financing from the state's Community Legacy program, in a resolution introduced by the city council Monday.

The third project would be a tenant bid-out program, in cooperation with Havre de Grace Main Street, that will provide an incentive to make improvements to aging buildings in the Main Street district.

Economic development manager Meghan Simmons said the application would be sent Oct. 26.

The program will be modeled on the city's façade improvement program, except it will be for interior work, she said. It will consist of small, forgivable loans that will be given to qualified applicants, either tenants or landlords.

Simmons said the Hatem Bridge entrance project proposes to have three phases. The first would include painting the bridge and making streetscape improvements such as brick walkways and signs directing people to the downtown area.

The second phase is heavy landscaping in the grassy area to the right of Route 40 before the bridge, and the third phase would be road and decorative enhancements where Chapel Road ends and Juniata Street begins.

Simmons said the view of the river from the hill coming into town on Route 155 doesn't match what people see when they are in the pocket around Route 40 by the Hatem Bridge.

"The [Route] 155 gateway into the town doesn't necessarily represent the beauty of the city and what we have to offer," she said. "The result will be an improved gateway that better represents the waterfront community."

She said the city would be working heavily with the Maryland Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration, as well as the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway.

The second project would feature improvements to an area by the water treatment plant facing Franklin Street. The request would be for $60,000 to reconfigure fencing, replace it with "anti-climb" fencing and possibly leave space to plant vines and create a "living fence," she said.

"The design is complete and we're awaiting drawings for that," Simmons said.

"What you end up with is a more natural vista looking out to the Susquehanna River," she said.

Simmons said the projects could be largely done next year.

"All three projects are shovel-ready, so we are looking to complete at least two of the projects by December 2012," she said.

Councilman Jim Miller criticized the choice of projects, asking why the city was bothering with a state-owned bridge instead of fixing up Erie, Juniata or Ontario streets.

Simmons replied she believes the entrance area is "directionally challenging" and aesthetically bad.

"Coming through that area right now is very unattractive," she said.

Miller then said he thinks doing landscaping by the bridge would be bad for public safety.

"With the problems we experienced on 9/11, now you're going to put trees and stuff there that would be places for would-be terrorists to hide out in," he said.

Miller also said he does not see how a façade improvement at the water treatment plant there would change downtown for better or worse.

"It's an old building," he said, adding if people want to see a more modern or nicer-looking building, they can go to other parts of downtown.

Miller said he the city should use funds to benefit the entire area, not just to "make something look pretty."

He said he would vote for it because it is better for the council to show a united front but hopes to talk about it more in the future.

"I'm really not in favor of this resolution," he said.

Other council members were more positive about the proposals but had questions particularly about the tenant incentive program.

"I commend Meghan because she put a lot of hard work into working with State Highway [Administration] and MDTA to do anything with their bridge," Councilman Fred Cullum said, agreeing with Simmons about the Route 155 entrance area. "It's a terrible-looking thing coming down to it…It's not a very good impression of the city of Havre de Grace, I'm sure."

He said he thought SHA was going to paint the bridge as part of the recent renovation work on it.

Cullum also wondered, with the tenant incentive program, who would pay the bill if the business closes.

In response to a question from Councilman Randy Craig, Simmons said the guidelines for the tenant program will have to be nailed down after the award is given.

"That's not unusual, to do broad strokes [with a program]," she said.

Craig also asked why this program focuses on interiors when the façade improvement program seems to be very successful.

Simmons replied, "We stayed away from façade this year because it's very well-funded."

Craig said although he had some concerns about the gateway project and wanted to see some of the sidewalk areas reconsidered, he thinks the proposal overall is a good one.

"I think the projects that are chosen here are really good projects," he said. "I think improving the appearance of the water treatment plant will go a long way toward improving the downtown."

Councilwoman Barbara Wagner said she thinks the incentive program will be successful and give "that extra carrot" to downtown tenants.

"I think that's a beautiful program and a great idea. I know in any downtown area, if there are vacancies… if [someone] walks past two vacancies, they might not continue," she said. "I think this is an excellent, think-out-of the box idea."

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