Commitment Earns Developer 'Builder Of The Year' Honors

Armiger Takes Lead In Reviving Industry

January 05, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

The common fallacy of modern-day thinking, says L. Earl Armiger, is that too many people believe land developers are only out to make a buck, that they are "money-grubbers" who don't care about their community or the homes they provide.

"But let me tell you something. I think builders are the greatest people I have ever known. These are the people that help shape the future, and it's just not true to say wedon't care," says Armiger, who was recently named Maryland's "Builder of the Year."

Armiger, president of the Ellicott City-based Orchard DevelopmentCorp., fits the bill as an outspoken developer -- two years ago, he was arrested during a boisterous growth-cap debate at a County Council meeting -- and he is not one to back down from the hardships facinghis industry.

"The year 1991 will go down in history as the worstyear for housing since World War II," said Armiger, who has been in the development business for 25 years. "This is a critical time that demands action."

Among the chief reasons that the Home Builders Association of Maryland awarded Armiger their top honor was his zeal intrying to bring bankers, financial regulators and builders together to resolve the credit problems builders are facing due to the recession.

Armiger, who also serves as president of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, is well-known to many county residents for his avidprotests of the growth-cap legislation ushered in during vehement anti-growth years of the 1980s.

In June of 1989, Armiger's outspokenprotest of the cap lead him to accidentally bump into a plainclothespolice officer in the audience, resulting in his arrest on assault and battery charges that were later dropped.

"The growth cap causeda lot of good, local community developers to be destroyed or nearly destroyed," Armiger said. "It cost us millions of dollars, all because of an irresponsible act of government. It shows where anti-growth hysteria can lead."

Although the growth-cap controversy is over, Armiger faces the new dilemma of the 1990s economy, which has brought sweeping changes to the way banks lend money to builders.

Through the builders association, Armiger has organized a summit meeting of sorts, to be held in Baltimore Jan. 14. The meeting will include builders, Maryland banks and a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. representative from New York, said Karen Martin, an education division manager with the Home Builders Association.

"He (Armiger) has been at the forefront of trying to get bankers and builders on better ground," Martin said. "He's very committed at a time when the industry needs a lotof commitment."

The builder's hope the meeting will lead to loosening some of the lending restrictions that have plagued the development industry since the savings and loan association crisis unfolded two years ago, said Armiger, 49, a Howard County resident since 1970.

In the boom building years of the 1980s, builders typically received about 50 percent of their financing from savings and loans, he said. But since the crisis, S & L loans are not available to builders andbanks have tightened their lending, Armiger said.

Armiger's projects through Orchard Development -- named because his first project was the development of Columbia's Sewell's Orchard in the late 1970s --include Orchard Landing and Orchard Club apartment complexes in Columbia and Elkridge.

Most of the firm's revenue, however, comes fromthe selling of real estate lots to builders, he said.

An avid fisherman and boater who grew up in Silver Spring, Armiger describes himself as "a Maryland lover," and as such, he said he feels he is contributing to the state's future by being an advocate for responsible building.

"When we break ground on a project, it's like a real rush for me," he said. "And I think most builders are like me. These are people who really love it and wouldn't do anything else."

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