Few properties in downtown Westminster have as much potential as the former site of the Farmers Supply Co. on Liberty Street. It is a sizable parcel -- one acre -- in the heart of the city's business district. Development on this lot could well set the tone for the future of downtown in the Carroll County seat. Therefore, Westminster's council should take a keen interest in its development.
Jack Tevis and Shell Oil Co. would like to build a convenience store, gas station and fast food restaurant on the site. They have made a serious offer to the trustee for the parcel's owners, who has peddled this property -- unsuccessfully -- for more than five years.
While this property's redevelopment could be key to the success of Westminster's revitalization effort, the City Council has decided not to purchase it. Instead, the council plans to control its use through zoning. That course of action is fine, but it means the council will have to be more aggressive in reviewing development proposals.
In the past, if the zoning was appropriate, city officials and elected leaders allowed developers to do whatever they wanted on their property. The garish Sheetz fast food and gasoline emporium at the intersection of Washington Road and Main Street is the direct result of such a laissez faire approach to development.
HyettPalma, a consultant studying Westminster's downtown revitalization, has identified the Farmers Supply site as "an ideal location" for a high-quality residential or office complex. A well-executed project could be the catalyst to generate other downtown development. Another fast food, gasoline station and convenience store does not fill that bill.
Westminster's council has a tough decision. If the council takes action that benefits the entire community and prohibits gas stations and convenience stores on this property, it may well prevent its sale. Mr. Tevis has only one project in mind and has no interest in building office or residential units.
When City Council members meet to discuss permitted uses in the central business district, the future of the downtown -- and not merely this lot -- must be foremost in their minds. Another service station and fast food restaurant won't enhance Westminster's appearance and may even represent a setback for the city's revitalization efforts.