Council hears 3 plans for downtown site; All seek to mix living, office, retail uses


Three firms had a half-hour each yesterday to convince the Westminster Common Council of their proposals to develop the former Farmers Supply site downtown at Liberty and Green streets.

The council adjourned last night without discussing the proposals, although members asked questions during the presentations.

While the three projects varied in size, funding and design, they had one thing in common: a combination of retail, office and residential space.

"Obviously, that's what the market feels [will sell]," said Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan.

The request the city made for proposals did not specify what kind of project should be built on the 1-acre plot -- except that it be compatible with a parking garage the city will build.

Gerald J. Ryan and David Nesbitt of Senior Housing Partnership, based in Westminster, proposed a residential building for older residents like ones the company has built in Baltimore and Columbia, with some retail and office space.

They emphasized they would not build more space than they could rent and said they intend to use a state program, Partnership Rental Housing, to keep rents in a range for moderate-income senior citizens.

William A. Hasson, of Tyler-Donegan Inc. of Hyattstown, proposed a privately funded mixed-use development of of- fice, retail and residential space. Hasson called the model a "live-work" area in which some tenants could rent second-floor office space and third-floor residences. The first floor would be retail.

Orchard-Rose Ventures LLC of Ellicott City also proposed office, retail and residential units in a project with more square footage than the other two, but like the first, with apartments for moderate-income senior citizens. Representatives of the firm proposed using state tax credits to offset their costs and keep rents between $400 and $700 a month.

L. Earl Armiger of Orchard-Rose said his firm has had success with a similar development in Laurel, in which senior citizens who live there do most of their business and shopping within the immediate area.

Council members asked the developers whether they would be willing to build their projects in another part of the city if they were not chosen to develop the Farmers Supply site. All said they would consider doing so.

Until January, the land at Liberty and Green streets was to be developed by Carroll County Bank & Trust Co. as a 60,000-square-foot office building.

The city had committed to building a parking deck for the project, which officials had called the "crown jewel" of the downtown development.

But in January, the bank was bought by BB & T Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., which canceled the $6 million project that was to include a new headquarters for Carroll County Bank.

As consolation, BB & T officials flew to Westminster last month to present the city with $2.25 million to make up for the canceled plans.

The contribution includes $2 million for a planned parking garage; $125,000 to readvertise the property; and $125,000 to Town Center Corp., a nonprofit entity created by the city to work on the development. BB & T also returned the deed to the 1-acre site a block off Main Street, valued at $500,000.

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