The Westminster Common Council voted to approve an ordinance related to zoning for Family and Children’s Services as it seeks to expand.
Family and Children’s Services, or FCS, is aiming to add on to its West End Place Medical Adult Day Care location and construct a shelter on the property for survivors of elder abuse or domestic violence, as well as their children.
The council’s vote would apply the Compatible Neighborhood overlay zone to the property, using a zone designed for infill development in older neighborhoods. The overlay allows for projects that are not subject to regular restrictions of residential zoning, with the intention of allowing for creative projects and expanded housing choice, according to the memo from city staff included in the meeting packet.
Prior to the vote, the city officials held a public hearing, and several members of the community raised concerns about the location of the project.
Homeowners on Union Street said they are already having difficulty finding parking near their own residences as they compete with those parking for nearby McDaniel College and businesses in the area.
The homeowners questioned whether the plan included sufficient parking for residents and employees of West End Place. With an expansion of West End Place, they feel that traffic and parking needs would increase in surrounding Union Street, Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and that residents of the area — many of them senior citizens — would be pushed out of parking.
Another concern raised was the safety of the area, particularly for the residents of the shelter. Residents said they had seen increases in the frequency of drug activity and other crimes afflicting the area, sparking some concern.
The residents sent a letter and a petition with 28 signatures to the city dated June 6.
John Lemmerman presented on behalf of FCS to speak on how they felt the project met the requirements of the Compatible Neighborhood overlay zone.
F.T. Burden, CEO of FCS, said the organization had done a 24-hour runthrough of the programs that would be offered at the upgraded space and felt that the parking — both at the site and 10 spaces at a nearby church through a memorandum of understanding — would be enough.
FCS believes the facility would be an asset to the safety of the area because it would have people around for 24 hours a day and the buildings will be equipped with cameras.
“When you hear it kind of without having the staff walking through the detail, you would think we don't have enough spaces for all of those uses,” he said.
But with the staffing schedule and programs held at different times throughout the day, there is actually ample parking, he said. He hoped citizens with concerns would get in touch with them so they could have a chance to show them their plans.
The council agreed that the project met the requirements for the zoning overlay. They felt that the site plan deals with the parking concerns for West End Place.
The site plan is in the concept stage and has not been submitted yet. It will come before the Westminster Planning & Zoning Commission for a public hearing at a future meeting.
The council asked FCS to expand its outreach in the community about the project to include a wider group that do not directly abut the property, including those who signed the petition.
The council also spoke about whether there were unrelated actions they could take to improve the parking situation in the area, like some form of permitting.
A couple of other notable projects were discussed in the council meeting.
The large-scale renovations to the city’s wastewater treatment plant as part of the Enhanced Nutrient Removal (ENR) project hit an expensive snag.
During construction, hundreds of bypasses need to be pressure-filled with grout to reconstitute the bearing surfaces, according to Jeff Glass, director of public works. At about 40% completion, they have used 90% of the amount of grout budgeted for the project.
“What that means is there were some very unsuitable soils beneath, very likely because of sinkholes,” he said.
Rough estimates of the cost for more materials and construction delays may be as high as $500,000, Glass estimated.
The renovations to the wastewater treatment plant are required in order to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards for removing pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The final piece of funding for the biggest construction project in city history, the Westminster Fiber Network, was secured.
The city secured a 30-year deferred loan from the state that will put $1.3 million toward the operations of the fiber network.
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The loan has a 0% interest rate. In the big picture, this will decrease the overall interest cost of the fiber refinancing package, according to the meeting minutes from the previous meeting.