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Key downtown property attracts city's interest


The Westminster City Council may try to shape the future of the former Farmers Supply Co. property through zoning changes, rather than by buying and reselling the downtown site.

Council members have been interested in how the property develops since it was identified as a key site in a downtown revitalization study last year. The 1 acre, in the first block of Liberty St., has been on the market since 1989.

"This valuable property would be an ideal location for a quality housing development or office complex within the immediate future," according to the study, done for the city by consultants HyettPalma.

Council members discussed buying the property at a closed meeting in April, but rejected the idea.

A poll of council members showed no support for city acquisition of the land, where an International Harvester dealership and coffee shop once stood. Councilwoman Suzanne P. Albert could not be reached for comment.

In addition to being an important site in the downtown business district, the two buildings have historical significance, city officials said.

"I would be surprised if the council ended up buying that property," said Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan.

The city's Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday is scheduled to discuss changes to central business district zoning that would eliminate some businesses the zoning appeals board now allows.

The commission will meet at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Enterprises that may be eliminated from the central business district include adult entertainment centers, drive-in restaurants, golf driving ranges and service stations.

Westminster businessman Stanley H. "Jack" Tevis III has won city approval to build a gas and convenience store and sandwich shop on a vacant lot at Carroll and West Main streets. That approval would not be affected by possible zoning changes.

But city officials have expressed concern that a similar operation might open on the Farmers Supply property. Gas pumps and a convenience store there would kill local government leaders' hopes for a business that would fill downtown streets with lunch-hour shoppers and diners.

Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr., who has been active in downtown revitalization, said that despite council interest in how the Farmers Supply property develops, he would not support city purchase of the tract.

"I don't see us as being in the real estate business. I see us as being in the municipal government business," Mr. Chapin said.

The Westminster Historic District Commission hasn't stated its position on the properties. Architect Dean R. Camlin, who heads the commission, said the historical interest of the old stone building at the northern edge of the property now exceeds its architectural value.

The stone building and surrounding barns, part of the B. F. Shriver Co. cannery, were described by architectural historian Christopher Weeks in "The Building of Westminster in Maryland" as "fascinating examples of early commercial-industrial buildings."

Mr. Camlin said the former International Harvester showroom was one of about 1,800 buildings designed by Raymond Loewy, a founder of the industrial design movement who also designed the Shell Oil Co. logo and the Studebaker Avanti, a sports car.

Owners of the Farmers Supply property are asking $595,000, down from the initial price of $675,000, but unchanged for two years.

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