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Ellicott City building demolition funding up for debate

Posted: 7:50 PM, Sep 17, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-17 20:20:29-04

Business owner Julia Sanger looks out the window of what used to be Park Ridge Trading Company on Main Street. 

"I see Linda’s business and I see Evan's business and I see the Shoemaker's business. I mean these are not just buildings for me," Sanger said 

After May's devastating flooding, they are all still boarded up. 

"They are empty shells of what they used to be and they are never going to be that again," Sanger said.

Now these buildings Julia used to see every day; buildings that housed Ellicott City staples; are at the center of a controversial flood mitigation plan that Sanger wants to see happen. 

"Although it’s heartbreaking to see these buildings come down, we know the danger of leaving them there," Sanger said. 

The county has proposed a $50 million 5-year plan that includes demolishing or relocating 10 buildings on lower Main Street to construct a river walk. In the last 2 floods, councilman Jon Weinstein says the county spent close to $35 million to repair the town. 

"For a net increase between $10 and $15 million, we can solve a problem," Weinstein said. 

He says it would bring potential flooding down to a manageable level, from 12-15 feet in some places to 4-6 feet.

"That is a substantial reduction," Weinstein said. 

Weinstein says of those 10 buildings, 4 are beyond repair and most are not historic. 

"The remaining buildings have very little historic left in them. They’ve been through fires and floods over the decades and centuries," Weinstein said.

There is one, the Tea on the Tiber building which was once owned by George Ellicott, that is very historic and the plan includes funds to disassemble and reassemble the building somewhere else.  

But not everyone is in support of the demolition. Preservation Maryland believe the plan doesn't reduce flooding significantly enough to be worth the investment and loss of community resources.

"To preserve as many buildings as we can, to preserve as many historical artifacts as we can, we think that’s very important but I’ll tell you, if you have to choose between buildings and lives, we choose lives," Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said.

The county is hosting a public hearing Monday night to hear from people about their plan and proposed budget legislation that would fund $18 million for the first year of the project by moving money from other projects for the time being without causing much delay to other projects, Kittleman says. $5 million of that is for the removal of the buildings and construction of the river walk.

Many business owners plan to speak out in support of the plan, seeing it as an opportunity to move the city forward in a safe way. 

"Without the current plan, there will be no Main Street to protect," Sanger said.

 

Sanger is one of 30 businesses that co-signed a letter to the county urging them to move forward with demolition. She isn't even considering reopening in her current space until something changes. 
 

"We don’t feel safe in our space. We don’t feel comfortable putting employees back down here," Sanger said. 

 

Weinstein says it's not just for businesses thinking about coming back, but for those who have already reopened.

 

"They have said that their business is running about half of what it was a year ago this time, that if there is not a significant effort to address the problem, they are not gonna stay," Weinstein said.  

 

The meeting Monday is simply a public hearing. The council will vote on the budget legislation in October. If it passes, they expect to have the building's demolished and the river walk complete by the end of next year.