Developers add apartments to mix proposed for Farmers Supply corner; Common Council hears three plans for site


Housing had never been part of the original plans for developing the old Farmers Supply site at the corner of Liberty and Green streets in downtown Westminster.

But it is an important component of each of the proposals from three developers eager to transform the site into a place that would be used around the clock with retail, office and apartment space.

One outside observer who is an expert in land use is glad to see plans that could rejuvenate Westminster's Main Street by having more people live there.

"Look at some of the best places to live, like Annapolis," said David S. Thaler, a Baltimore-based civil engineer and expert on the trend toward traditional neighborhood design. "You have people living on the second floor downtown. It gives the town life, and it certainly gives the town life after 5 o'clock."

Westminster, he said, is architecturally full of promise.

"It may be the best-preserved small town in Maryland," Thaler said. He said the city's Victorian buildings, steep pitched roofs and streetscapes typify the "vernacular" architecture of Maryland towns -- buildings common to the region and not designed by big-name architects. Such communities were born with mixed-use buildings, but malls, shopping centers and bypasses steal the heart of downtown businesses, he said.

The way to restore towns to the days when Main Streets were thriving is to re-create that combination, Thaler said.

"You build retail space with offices, and the residential [component] creates the life on the street. People will park and walk.

"The problem with Westminster, like many small towns, is they created what is like a beltway -- Route 140 as a bypass -- and now their bypass needs a bypass," Thaler said.

The developers eyeing the Farmers Supply site emphasized the need for residential development because people living downtown will be more likely to patronize businesses there.

"Retail never leads -- it always follows," said David Nesbitt, partner with Gerald Ryan in Senior Housing Partnership, one of the firms that submitted a proposal. "Residential [development] always comes first."

Nesbitt and Ryan were the first of the three developers to make their cases before the Westminster Common Council on Monday night.

They proposed building 44 apartments for independent, moderate-income senior citizens age 62 and older on two floors over a planned city parking garage. A tower to one side of the building would have retail on the first floor, office space on the second, and more apartments on the third and fourth floors.

Ryan said market research showed that people 62 and older are often out during the day, patronizing businesses between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when many younger adults would be at work, perhaps in another city.

Tyler-Donegan Inc. of Hyattstown proposed to combine a smaller number of apartments -- perhaps only three to five -- with second-floor offices in a "live-work" model. The first floor would be retail space.

"The concept of live-work units creates a pattern of pedestrian traffic across a broad range of time each day," wrote William A. Hasson, a vice president with the firm, in his proposal.

"The project will help define the town center and act as an ideal transitional use between the heavier commercial activity along Main and Liberty streets and residential areas in the same block," he told the council Monday.

Orchard/Rose Ventures LLC, a combination of Orchard Development Corp. and Michael T. Rose Associates, proposed to build a 60-unit senior apartment building with up to 20,000 square feet for retail and office use, such as a coffee bar, art gallery or antiques shop.

L. Earl Armiger of Orchard Development said a project the company developed in downtown Laurel has been a success, with residents patronizing and boosting nearby businesses.

His associate, John Reynolds, said that in Laurel, the building created a stable downtown residential base where none had existed. In Westminster, it would add to an existing base, he said.

Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said the council will have to decide which plan to accept, or whether to decline them all and try again. All the proposals for the site are smaller than the plans Carroll County Bank and Trust Co. had for a 60,000-square-foot office building.

That deal was canceled when BB&T; Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., bought the bank. BB&T; officials gave the city the deed to the 1-acre site and about $2.25 million to help redevelop it.

With three plans on the table, the next step is for the council to discuss them. So far, the issue is not on the agenda, and it will have to take a back seat to more pressing matters, said Thomas Beyard, city planning director.

The panel faces the loss of Council President Damian L. Halstad, who will be leaving to accept an appointment to the Carroll County Circuit Court.

"I would think [replacing Halstad is] probably going to be the priority," said Beyard.

Under state law, the city will have six weeks to fill the seat, beginning with a formal declaration of a vacancy, which could occur as early as the next meeting Monday.

Pub Date: 10/20/99

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