Fresh vision for Ellicott City after floods includes riverfront park, footbridge, and more

Historic Ellicott City might see a new pedestrian bridge where Baltimore County meets Howard along the Patapsco River, a concert stage, riverfront park and a parking deck.

The mill town has been damaged by two 1,000-year floods since 2016.

After one person died in a May flood, the county announced a five year, $50 million plan to mitigate flooding. The plan, which requires razing 13 buildings, is contested by preservationists who fear it will lead to the town’s removal from the National Register of Historic Places.

Thursday night the county unveiled drawings of what the area could look like if plans for the historic district and surrounding watershed come to fruition.

A bridge over the river would likely be a “signature” design, said Tom McGilloway of Mahan Rykiel Associates, a design firm hired by the county to do preliminary design, and would align with a former trolley bridge.

McGilloway said it would attract visitors and suggested the creation of a Riverfront Park in conjunction with a parking lot.

The firm recommended the county consider replacing 10 buildings on lower Main Street with an open space and concert stage. The footprint of the buildings, which would be demolished to widen the Tiber River channel, might be outlined with metal frames, McGilloway said.

The firm said the county is limited in what it can do on lower Main Street because design must balance historic interpretation efforts with an ability to handle floodwaters, be built on a hard surface and be able to handle debris carried downriver in storms.

It recommended the county widen sidewalks, raise crosswalks and add a flood warning system.

On Upper Main Street, where one building is proposed to be demolished, the consultants recommended a mixed-use space. There would be public restrooms, trash management and parking, wrapped with “active” uses like a art studio space.

The firm anticipates parking for lower Main Street be in high demand after the open space is finished. They recommended building a parking deck in lots F, D and A. It recommended the use of a slow-moving electric 10-person shuttle.

On the Upper Main Street, the firm said traffic can be improved through implementing, crosswalks, permanent curb extensions, and a traffic circle at Rogers bridge.

While a number of residents at the presentation praised the plan, others, including Craig Stewart, criticized it as an attempt to mesh modernity with the town’s historic aura.

“I thought I was walking into a planning meeting for downtown Columbia,” Stewart, of Ellicott City, said.

“Why are we considering commercial development in the historic district,” Stewart asked officials before being met with applause from the audience.

Ellicott City resident Frank Durante’s house backs up to Hudson River. With each storm, he said the waters rise to a higher level. Durante believes that development — even more than climate change — is the reason to blame for the intensity of the floods.

“If we don’t stop development in this watershed, this plan will fail,” said Durante, who requested a permanent moratorium of development in the area.

County Executive Allan Kittleman approved a temporary moratorium on certain developments in the Plumtree and Tiber Branch watersheds and charged the Department of Planning and Zoning to study land use, drainage infrastructure and flood mitigation so it can fully vet how permit buildings requests mesh with the flood-prone area.

“I hope development stops permanently,” said Durante. “If not, we’re building all of this for nothing.”

The $50 million plan is modeled on the deadly 2016 flood that pushed more than 8 feet of water onto lower Main Street. floodwaters

Howard County is seeking permits from state and federal agencies to do the project; approvals could take a year.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted that Ellicott City was built to withstand 100-year-floods.

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