“Protecting History Does Not Mean Living in the Past”

by Jay Winer

I recently attended a meeting sponsored by the Anne Arundel County office of Planning and Zoning to review the “historic overlay zone” that is part of the Odenton Town Center Master Plan. The Plan is being updated and revised for the second time in the last 10 years and 20 years after the first Master Plan was created. I chaired the community committee appointed by the county executive 20 years ago to oversee the Plan’s implementation.  It’s interesting to note how many people at the meeting complained about not knowing any of the plans, changes in plans or just wanted to be left alone. If I’ve attended one informational meeting publicly advertised over the years, I’ve attended dozens of them. Where were these people?

The Odenton Heritage Society, of which I have been adviser for many years, was instrumental way back when in pushing the County and State to do an assessment of historic properties in Odenton. Almost all were concentrated on or around Odenton Road between Piney Orchard Parkway and the MARC rail station parking lot. Some were in the area now considered the core of the town center where the greatest density for new development was planned.

The point is that there were only a few houses actually considered historic by general standards and specific definition for this type of property. But thouse in handshe historians and community activists pushed to include them in a “district” so as to insure the character of the “neighborhood” was maintained and these properties not be adversely affected. So the planners agreed and the district was “born”.  As it turns out, almost no new development took place in this same area for 20 years.

Fast forward to today, when planned growth and development in the Odenton Town Center area has finally begun to take hold.  After the absolute uproar led by the Heritage Society over a townhouse development proposed in the same “district”, now planners seek to “tweak” the plan by limiting uses allowed as well as some “other” changes in this area.

The problem is that the market, development, planning and just about every other thing in our area has changed dramatically over 20 years. Shouldn’t the Plan? We’ve discovered after many years for example, that in order for the town center to ever build out the planned parking garages, they will need access from more directions than originally thought, including the same Odenton Road that runs through the “district”. This is critical to the well-being of the entire area and ALL of the people who live here and have moved here expecting their “new” community to be built to serve them.

We need to adapt to our current conditions. Preserve the individual properties that deserve it. But don’t live in the past and force an arbitrary district that will not integrate current and future needs with actual historic or cultural assets.