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Flood-damaged Ellicott City Main Street reopening to traffic

(File photo)

(File photo)

Ellicott City’s Main Street will fully reopen to vehicle and pedestrian traffic Friday evening after being restricted following a deadly flood at the end of May.

Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman and Councilman Jon Weinstein announced Tuesday the planned reopening. Kittleman intends to sign an executive order ending the State of Emergency that was declared following the May 27 flood, which was extended last month at the request of residents, businesses and property owners.

The emergency order was set to end July 3 but was extended to July 30. In a statement, Kittleman said the county feels the area is safe enough to fully reopen to thru traffic. Traffic will resume its normal pattern starting at 5 p.m but parking restrictions will stay in place for the lower section of the popular retail destination.

“We wanted to make sure that the residents, businesses and merchants on the lower end of Main Street had the opportunity to safely secure their buildings,” Kittleman said. “We’ve worked hard to reasonably balance their needs with those of the businesses that have already reopened. We feel we can now safely reopen the entire street and our police officers will continue to have a round-the-clock visible presence.”

Other roads in the area, such as Ellicott Mills Drive, Hamilton Street and New Cut Road will remain closed.

The flooding in May, caused by several inches of rain in a matter of hours, killed a man, damaged buildings and swept away cars. A similar storm caused another deadly flood on Main Street, which dates back to the 1770s, less than two years ago.

At a town hall meeting last month, business owners expressed concerns about reopening in the area. Infrastructure improvements aimed at mitigating the effects of flooding are still years away from completion, and some entrepreneurs are worried about the safety of operating in the area in the meantime.

As a result of those concerns, Waverly Real Estate Group, a major property owner and management company in the area, made the unusual move of allowing out of their leases commercial tenants who feel unsafe. But the number of businesses looking to leave, according to the company, has been relatively small.

Residents, businesses, property owners and government officials have been weighing options about how to go about rebuilding following the latest deadly flood. Some residents have argued to ban development in the Tiber River watershed because they believe overdevelopment in surrounding areas has made flooding worse.

The Howard County Council held a hearing on Monday night on a bill sponsored by Weinstein that would temporarily halt development in the area. Weinstein is a Democrat whose district includes Ellicott City but who lost his primary election in June by a handful of votes.

Engineers hired by the county to examine issues with flooding in old Ellicott City have acknowledged building has increased runoff. But they maintain topography, not over building, is the major culprit of flooding during recent severe storms.

Some environmental groups and residents have said businesses should not be allowed to rebuild. They argue the area is in a flood plain and will likely be inundated by water again. Under current building regulations the structures in old Ellicott City could not be built because they’re in a flood plain.

Howard County has started assessing the value of some properties in the area that have been repeatedly damaged in the floods as part of process that could result in the government buying and demolishing structures in critical areas.

Following the last flood, Kittleman said he was not in the mood to consider using eminent domain. While there are no concrete plans to take property, Kittleman has said he’s willing to consider more drastic options to prevent deaths.

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