With Ellicott City flood plan in limbo, a developer lets a business owner go rent-free for the holidays

Sally Tennant last month gave a $1 check to her new, temporary landlord for her Ellicott City shop’s rent.

Developer Don Reuwer, who is still holding the check in his desk, said he let Tennant go rent-free for the holiday season because a boost in foot traffic on lower Main Street is “good for the town.” The rent would usually be $3,500 per month.

“The more activity on Main Street, the better,” Reuwer said. “We have to send the message that Main Street is open for business.”

Historic Ellicott City has seen economic hardship since a deadly May flood ravaged the old mill town.

Tennant was among the owners whose properties were destroyed by the 8 feet of water that rushed along Main Street on Memorial Day weekend. The chance to temporarily open her boutique, Discoveries, is a chance to recoup some of the money lost and revitalize her business, she said.

The landlord’s offer “is not only generous but it’s smart,” Tennant said.

“We are dealing with extraordinary circumstances and hardships,” Tennant said. “To have the town full, alive and vibrant...that to me is bridging the gap to recovery.”

Tennant’s boutique had been on Main Street for 38 years.

Tennant was among the 10 property owners whose shops would have been purchased under a flood-control plan that requires the demolition of 13 buildings. But now, she’s in limbo as Calvin Ball, who throughout his successful campaign for county executive, dubbed himself an opponent of the plan. Ball has declined to say if he will acquire the 13 buildings.

Tennant last week meet with a representative for Ball and said she is “optimistic [Ball] understands the critical nature of this situation.”

“I think he understands that everything hinges on taking steps to protect us” from another flood, Tennant said.

Ball last week announced his transition team which will “study the issues and the reports put forth by experts, and incorporate their findings into recommendations for the direction of the administration,” said Rebecca Aaron, a Ball spokeswoman, in an email.

Ball said his public works committee would take the lead on a cursory review of the $50 million plan to mitigate flooding.

Out of the eight members tapped for the role, two have had direct contact with the current flood mitigation plan, according to Jim Irvin, director of the county’s Department of Public Works.

The members of the public works subcommittee transition team are:

  • Dale Chase, president of Local 3085 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union
  • Tom Coale, attorney, former Vice President of the Ellicott City Partnership and host of “Elevate Maryland” podcast
  • Mary Catherine Cochran, former executive director of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway and longtime Ellicott City resident
  • Tony McGuffin, musician, former president of the Howard County Home and Hospital Teachers' Association and longtime Ellicott City resident
  • Sharonlee Vogel, vice-chair of the Maryland Commission on Aging and chairwoman of the Senior Advisory Committee at the Columbia Association
  • Lei Zhang, Director, Maryland Transportation Institute Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Natalie Ziegler, a Democratic candidate for the state legislature and owner of Carroll Mill Farm
  • Anwar Hasan, engineer and former manager
  • Kimberly Kepnes, property and business owner on Main Street

This story has been updated with more information and additions to the subcommittee. An earlier version of this story listed Ronald Brasher as a developer. Brasher was once a developer and is now an architect. He was recently moved to the subcommittee reviewing the practices Department of Planning, Zoning, and Permits.

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