Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Businesses prefer a light touch to redevelopment

Burtonsville merchants support plans that would direct traffic to their stores, resist more drastic measures

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Merchants along Route 198 near Route 29 in Burtonsville say they welcome some changes to the commercial district to bring in business to the area, but are against more drastic measures that would redevelop the area.
Burtonsville merchants say they do not want to see any drastic changes to the business corridor along Route 198 in light of a county plan to revitalize the area.

The businesses in the core commercial area along routes 198 and 29 will be the ones immediately affected by the grander scheme to revitalize Burtonsville. Consultants hired by the county have suggested everything from razing the buildings to brushing up the paint jobs.

But despite the owners’ unwillingness for significant change, almost all agree something needs to be done about the traffic that zooms down Route 198.

‘‘They just fly by,” said Gary Patel, the owner of Williams Wine and Beer, at 15440 Old Columbia Pike.

If the 30 mph speed limit was actually enforced, more people would stop at the stores, said Coffee Oromia’s owner Ghelta Kitila, at 15510 Old Columbia Pike.

So would proposed traffic circles slow the traffic? Business owners can’t agree.

Henrietta DeCarlo, the owner of Tony’s Garage Inc. at 15549 Old Columbia Pike, said circles wouldn’t work.

‘‘I think people are too impatient for that,” she said.

But just across the street, at 15540 Old Columbia Pike, the co-owner of Seibel’s Restaurant said she didn’t have a problem with them.

‘‘There’s less accidents at circles,” Lynn Martins said.

And while the recently refigured Route 29 overpass has helped through-traffic, it has hurt businesses along the old highway, like Hobby City in the Burtonsville Crossing center. Owner Kirk Whiteman said his signs at 15751 Columbia Pike used to be visible from the highway. Now people speed by and forget he’s there, he said.

‘‘Some people don’t realize they changed the road,” he said. ‘‘Now they get on Route 29 and they say ‘Well, it was around here. They must have torn the mall down.’”

With cars flying by and no sidewalks, Burtonsville’s business corridor is almost impossible to walk through, and residents have said making the area pedestrian-friendly is their No. 1 demand.

While business owners say they aren’t opposed to the idea of more sidewalks, most seem to think it will be a waste of time.

Residents will still drive to do their shopping, they said.

‘‘Burtonsville’s never really been pedestrian-friendly,” Martins said.

Whiteman agreed, saying the business corridor was built to accommodate cars, not people.

‘‘I don’t need pedestrians; I need cars going by,” he said.

One of the consultants hired by the county, Jim Prost of Basile Baumann Prost Cole and Associates, said he was under the impression the businesses’ top concern is better access.

‘‘They just want to make sure they can get in and out of their businesses,” he said.

Owners of Maiwand Kabob, 15508 Old Columbia Pike, and Coffee Oromia, which share a wall, said they’d be happy with a spruced-up parking lot.

‘‘The parking lot is not very neat or clean or organized,” said Manager Waleed Rafia, whose father owns Maiwand Kabob.

DeCarlo with Tony’s Garage Inc. suggested cleaning up the telephone and electricity wires running rampant above the stores.

But she said she’s skeptical anything will actually come to fruition.

‘‘They keep saying they’re going to do things and then they don’t do anything,” she said.

Whiteman said he would like to see organized signs facing Route 29. He was hesitant to suggest anything big, echoing most business owners.

‘‘Big changes can be bad,” he said.

One impending big change, however, does have business owners excited. The renovation of the Burtonsville Shopping Center, once home to The Dutch Country Farmers Market, will upgrade the entire area, Martins at Seibel’s said.

‘‘I think when [Chris Jones] revitalizes the shopping center, we’re all going to be surprised,” she said, referring to the president of the BMC Property Group and owner of the property.

She said it will naturally inject new life into the other stores, which could render county plans to revitalize unnecessary.

And for now, the plans are just that. The consultants have held several public meetings in recent weeks for community input and will study the area for the next six weeks before drafting a design to present for funding by the state and the county’s Capital Improvement Program.