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Ball says at least 4 Ellicott City buildings require demolition

This map displays some of the acquisitions and potential demolitions in downtown Ellicott City. (Adam Bednar)

This map displays some of the acquisitions and potential demolitions in downtown Ellicott City. (Adam Bednar)

At least four buildings on Main Street in Ellicott City must be razed to reduce risk of deadly flooding, according to Howard County officials.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball revealed a series of options to reduce flooding in the historic town on Wednesday. Options presented by the Ball administration would demolish fewer buildings than a plan supported by his predecessor. The new proposals, however, are significantly more expensive and will take longer to complete.

“We need bold innovative solutions that won’t be a Band-Aid to this town until the next storm. We need long-term, sustainable planning that will reduce the amount of potential flood water in Ellicott City, make our town safer and respect the taxpayer investment,” Ball said.

Ball’s team suggested five scenarios that involve tearing down between four and six buildings on the south side of the 8000 and 8100 blocks of Main Street.

The options, which include varying mixes of infrastructure work, range in cost between $63.5 million and $175 million. Completion timelines run between four and seven years.

The plan backed by former Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman called for demolishing 10 buildings in downtown Ellicott City and would have taken five years to complete at a cost of about $56.5 million.

Ellicott City, a historic mill town that dates back to the 1770s, twice has been hit by deadly floods that caused millions of dollars in damage since 2016 — most recently in May of 2018.

Ball, a Democrat, questioned the need to demolish roughly 5% of buildings in downtown Ellicott City during his campaign for executive last year. Kittleman, a Republican, introduced his plan the summer before the election, and polling by one advocacy group showed it was relatively unpopular with voters.

The issue, however, wasn’t strictly partisan. The flood mitigation plan favored by Kittleman was supported by the area’s former County Councilman Jon Weinstein, a Democrat.

Ball announced the first phase of his plan to reduce the danger of flooding in Ellicott City in December. That includes creating a warning system in case of an impending dangerous storm and signs directing people to higher ground.

Howard County's plan to reduce flooding in Ellicott City calls for demolishing 10 buildings on Main Street roughly from the old Caplan's Department Store to Maryland Avenue. (Adam Bednar)

Howard County’s options for reducing flooding in Ellicott City call for demolishing at least four buildings, including the old Caplan’s Department Store. (Adam Bednar)

Since then, Howard County has settled on the purchase of 10 area properties, seven of which are located on Main Street. Earlier this month the county settled on 8085 Main St., 8095-8101 Main St., and 8125 Main Street, a/k/a the Caplan’s Department Store building.

Howard County, Ball said, will immediately take steps to make improvement to the blighted buildings it now owns to maintain the retail center’s economic vibrancy. Plans including fixing windows and doors of buildings and filling in the basements of some to bolster structural integrity.

One historic property, or at least a portion of it, that must come down soon is the Caplan’s building.

“We’re seeking to demolish the portion over the stream quickly due to concerns about structural integrity,” Ball said.

Before the county selects a plan, Ball intends to allow residents to provide feedback on the various options. A public meeting to review options is slated for 7 p.m., May 2, in the Howard High School cafeteria.

While he expects county residents to coalesce around a plan after considering the costs and benefits of each suggestion, Ball acknowledges that ultimately it’s his decision to make .

“I think I owe it to our community to have this community conversation, and I trust our community will weigh in with a thoughtful response. In the end I am the county executive, and I will be making a decision based upon that community input,” he said.

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