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Town Square Revitalization Moves Forward

Scott Zuke

(2/21) Visions of a renewed Town Square in Emmitsburg came into focus at the February meetings of the Town Council as computer renderings presented a fly-through view of how the area would appear after implementing proposed changes to improve pedestrian safety, traffic congestion, and the overall aesthetics of the town's central intersection.

At the Council's February 4 meeting, Seth Harry of Seth Harry and Associates, which was contracted to develop the plans for the redesign, presented a couple plans that included relocated crosswalks, curved benches and planters, decorative brick piers, a clock, and an optional fountain, among other items.

Comments from the public, including several owners of businesses in and near the square, were overwhelmingly in favor of the proposals, and reflected appreciation for how local stakeholders have been engaged throughout the planning process.

Mayor Don Briggs set the long-term development of Downtown Frederick as an example of the importance of getting everyone fully on-board with the project, which he hopes will make Emmitsburg a "destination place to come to, not a place that you go through" on the way somewhere else. He added that, "In order to get a return, you have to invest money."

The scope of the financial investment was the subject of the February 18 meeting, at which Town Planner Susan Cipperly presented itemized cost estimates for the proposals. The basic set of improvements to the square come to an estimated $379,000, but the addition of elements such as an analog clock, fountain, improvements to the traffic signals, and new signage bring the total estimate to over $460,000.

Cipperly informed the Board that the next step is to commission a full set of construction drawings, which will cost $37,000. She noted that the town could apply for a grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority to cover both the plans and new way-finding signage, bringing the cost to the town down to $23,900.

The Board unanimously passed a motion by Commissioner Chris Staiger to direct the staff to pursue the grant, and to transfer the necessary money into the Capital Improvement Plan fund.

Staiger urged close attention to the mounting cost of the project and the need to continue moving forward. "The town is already in for almost $45,000 that we've spent," he said. "We need to know where we're going with this."

Briggs and a couple members of the public voiced support for opening a bidding process for certain elements of the Square so that individuals and businesses could invest to have their names printed on the clock, the fountain, bricks or other surfaces. The Board and town staff will consider many potential sources for funding from both private investments and competitive grants as the project moves forward.

Among the issues that will need to be revisited in the future is traffic management. Seth Harry's plans call for an "all-stop" phase of the traffic signals to improve safety for pedestrians at crosswalks, but the Maryland State Highway Administration warns that this could snarl traffic during peak hours, earning the intersection a failing grade rather than a barely passing one. Harry downplayed the finding, saying it was based on a model that may overestimate future traffic trends.

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