Westminster panel to finish list of proposals


After four months of presentations and discussions, a task force formed to revitalize a Westminster neighborhood will be ready to roll out a list of recommendations after its final meeting tonight.

The Lower Pennsylvania Avenue Advisory Task Force Committee will select from among 21 proposals - including a community policing plan and a program requiring landlords to be licensed - to create a list that will be presented next month to the city's Common Council. The council will consider the recommendations individually starting next month.

The committee is considering a proposal that would allow the city to have an administrative judge whose sole responsibility would be to issue rulings on municipal code violations. The judge would be appointed by the mayor and Common Council.

To deal with public safety issues that are considered a major problem on the avenue, proposals call for forming teams that would unite local agencies to contain crime and rehabilitate offenders. Creating a database of criminal activity in the neighborhood also is a suggestion.

Some of the recommendations are less sweeping, such as installing emergency telephone booths and better streetlights, establishing curfews, and narrowing travel lanes.

Perhaps the most contentious proposal is the one that would require landlords to obtain a license after their buildings have passed annual interior and exterior inspections. City officials who back the idea say it would streamline the code enforcement process and create a contact list of accountable owners.

Committee members wouldn't say publicly which proposals might not make the final cut, but some said privately that the community policing plan and the establishment of an arrest inventory are strong contenders for city approval.

City officials have acted on ideas discussed during the months of committee meetings, including a bid to obtain low-interest state loans that would be used to encourage homeownership in the neighborhood.

The group met for the first time in May. At that time, council President Damian L. Halstad listed drugs, safety issues, code violations, flophouses and a flat real estate market among the area's serious problems. In June, the killing of Sharon R. Yelton, a homeless woman, on the same night as a Pennsylvania Avenue block party underscored the sense of urgency to act.

The committee - made up of government officials, church representatives, residents and business owners - met every other week at the John Street firehouse.

Each meeting focused on one of five issues - municipal code enforcement, crime prevention, landlord accountability, local zoning codes and homeownership initiatives.

Their assignment was to create a preliminary list of recommendations that would help turn the neighborhood around.

Rental properties often were a topic of heated discussion. Residents complained that landlords failed to screen tenants or keep up their properties. The landlords said they were being unfairly blamed for the neighborhood's problems.

Those who attended the meetings were told about the obstacles to code enforcement, the types of crimes residents live with daily, the strengths of the neighborhood in its architecture and sense of community, and ways to make the area more stable.

A presentation by Karen K. Blanford, manager of the city's office of housing and community development, was the final item of the group's agenda.

She emphasized homeownership as a way to solidify the neighborhood and told of grants and low-interest loans available to rehabilitate or maintain older houses.

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