Back in the days when adult bookstores and seedy movie theaters lined the streets of Glen Burnie, Edward Middlebrooks walked out of church one morning and heard a bomb explode.
Yesterday, the freshman county councilman recalled hearing the reverberation.
While county officials hedged about the future of Glen Burnie's urban renewal program, Middlebrooks, D-Severn, thought back to the bombings and fires that scarred his hometown in the early 1970s. He keptpressing to keep the Office of Urban Renewal in Glen Burnie because he fears revitalization efforts easily could slip with the sagging economy.
"I don't want to see us backslide," Middlebrooks said. "I think we're at a critical point where we're either going to move forward or stagnate and decay."
He and other Glen Burnie leaders have been worrying ever since County Executive Robert R. Neall proposed bringing urban renewal under the Office of Planning and Zoning. The moveis one of several the executive outlined last week to streamline hisoffice.
Although they don't oppose the administrative change, community leaders fear they will lose Glen Burnie's mini "city hall."
Under the leadership of Victor A. Sulin, who began his first term inthe House of Delegates this year, business owners and residents havecome to rely on the program for help with problems ranging from potholes to broken sidewalks. If the office moves to Annapolis, civic leaders said, complaints could go ignored and the downtown might be neglected again.
"We'd all like to see at least some presence of urbanrenewal in Glen Burnie, so there is good oversight," said Muriel Carter, president of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association.
Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said the executive hasn't decided whether the office will be closed, scaled down or left intact under Planning and Zoning.
Kathleen Koch, a planning and zoning officer who oversees community development, said the program will be expanded to includethe entire county, instead of just Glen Burnie.
No changes in staffing or abolishing the program's 10-member advisory committee are planned, county officials said during a budget hearing yesterday. But Koch said the county wants to integrate urban renewal and community development with the rest of the planning office, which might require moving the program's administration to Annapolis.
While calling forkeeping the program in Glen Burnie, several
community leaders acknowledged that much of its work is done. Others said even though the major projects are finished, urban renewal remains incomplete withoutthe long-planned "superblock," a proposed commercial center on a 5.6-acre tract behind Arundel Center North.
Former county Councilman Michael F. Gilligan blamed the past administration for failing to support the project.
"I think Lighthizer's administration dropped theball on that," he said, referring to former County Executive O. James Lighthizer. "Urban renewal was always a stepchild to Lighthizer, who was more interested in Riva Road and the airport."
Sulin "took the bull by the horns," but he kept losing the money battle, Gilligan said.
Without financial support to develop an office and commercial complex, the urban renewal program turned into a management office.Sulin spent most of his time on maintenance and repairs and managingthe four completed projects -- Arundel Center North, the District Court, Glen Square senior complex and the North Arundel Plaza, a shopping center with movie theaters.
Middlebrooks has been pushing for building a cultural center instead of another commercial complex at the "superblock."