A group of business owners concerned about U.S. 1 in Howard County suggested yesterday possible steps to improve it, including offering tax incentives to help owners fix properties, changing zoning laws and planting trees and flowers.
More than a dozen business owners whose properties are on or near the road gathered in Savage for a brainstorming session.
County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone convened the meeting as part of an initiative he is leading to address concerns about blight, crime and economic development from Elkridge through North Laurel.
"My feeling is that whatever occurs on Route 1 should be what people want," said Guzzone, a Democrat who represents southeastern Howard. "I am going to try to get some state dollars for planning so that we can begin to address what we would like to see happen or not happen on Route 1."
The diverse group of entrepreneurs applauded Guzzone's efforts, saying that now is the time to address U.S. 1 issues.
Some said the road is ripe for economic growth in Howard County, but that it hasn't occurred because of the corridor's negative image.
"There are many options for improving Route 1," said Guzzone, who plans to serve as a liaison between the business community, residents and political leaders.
Much of U.S. 1 has been zoned for industrial use, making it difficult for commercial and retail businesses to take root there.
"We need to change the zoning, and we need to find a way to market Route 1," said Allen Cornell, a commercial real estate agent who sells properties in the corridor.
Cornell said he has $12 million to $15 million in investments along U.S. 1, but more companies would be interested in relocating if the zoning laws were changed and the area looked more attractive.
"We are blessed with this great geographical space," he said. "But people always ask me, why do we have what we have on Route 1."
Last week, Guzzone helped to organize another meeting of Howard County and Laurel officials to discuss ways Howard County might learn from U.S. 1 improvements made in Laurel.
Plans for improvements have been included in the county's 10-year General Plan and are being discussed by a grass-roots group called Howard County -- A United Vision.
That group is trying to unite county residents around a group of issues.
Herman Charity, an assistant to County Executive James N. Robey, said Robey would discuss the U.S. 1 issue with Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.
"Jim Robey has to look at the big picture," Charity said. "He does want to improve Route 1 from Elkridge to North Laurel."
Charity said he was unsure how much county money could be allocated for improvements.
A small amount of money might be available to get things moving, said Bob DiPietro, executive vice president of Laurel Park racetrack.
DiPietro said that each year the track -- which is in Howard and Anne Arundel counties -- provides Howard with $125,000 in "impact fees" to initiate county improvements within a 3-mile radius.
In the past, funds have been used to install sewer drainage systems and to repair roads, but DiPietro said that given the renewed interest in revitalizing U.S. 1, the money might be directed toward that effort.
"We want to make all of Route 1 look good so that when you drive along the corridor, you don't know what jurisdiction you're in," he added.
The business owners have agreed to meet on a regular basis, acknowledging that some of the ideas, such as changing zoning laws, might take a while.
"There's a lot of baby steps that we can take now," said Steven Adler, managing partner of the Savage Mill, indicating that business owners might initiate neighborhood cleanups to beautify the area. "If you go down Route 1 right now, I'm not sure if you'll feel proud to live and work in this area. We want to try to change that."