Forum scheduled to address 'Superblock' Glen Burnie pursues realistic plan for eyesore

September 27, 1992|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

Officially it's the Superblock, a 5.6-acre wedge of prime undeveloped land in downtown Glen Burnie. But to many, it's the "Pooperblock," a gravel eyesore fronting on Ritchie Highway, a 12-year-old urban-renewal dream that hasn't come true.

In the dream, which began in the late 1970s, the razed acreage of the Superblock would be transformed into 200,000 square feet of offices and stores, plus a five-deck parking garage.

With no one sharing the dream, the county reduced the office and retail to 170,000 square feet.

The only things that materialized were a part-year plant and produce stand, and weekend flea markets.

Now, with the real estate market flat and vacant office space in North County at 23 percent, the county is revisiting its unrealized plans.

The Office of Planning and Zoning is sponsoring a forum on the Superblock from 5 9 p.m. tomorrow at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association building. The first half will spotlight past and current proposals; in the second part, participants will break into small groups to offer their own Superblock visions. Invitations went out to about 100 people, and the public has been invited to attend. More meetings may be scheduled.

"We want to find out what the community wants here," said Victor Sulin, urban revitalization coordinator. "Whatever we do, it has to be something of a signature nature."

By that he means a landmark, something that will draw people to Glen Burnie.

The job of creating such a showplace was taken up early this year by nine business people who formed the Glen Burnie Town Center Committee. Exasperated after a decade of hearing no responses to the idea of an office park, the committee invited developers to pitch any idea for the Superblock.

Only three responded, all of them suggesting home condominiums, saying this was the only way to make the project profitable. One of the three developers also included a few stores in his proposal.

Reaction has not been overwhelming.

"It's not a real dynamic use," admitted Gene Floyd, former county urban renewal director who owns commercial real estate in the area.

However, he said, the county must face the fact that there is little or no demand for office space. So, what is the most practical use for the space?

"I don't know what should go there or what can go there. Maybe they are two different things," he said.

"If you asked me do I want to buy a town house or a condo on Ritchie Highway, I would say no. There are too many other communities not in such high traffic areas," said Bill Sarro, owner of the Scuba Hut, across Delaware Avenue from the Superblock.

Mr. Floyd, however, believes that moderately priced low-rise condos could draw adults who want the convenience and more urban setting of restaurants, movies and the like footsteps from their homes.

"I think that in today's market, some housing ought to go on that land," Mr. Sulin said.

However, he said, that raises another question: "Should we go through with development of the Superblock in these economic times? I'm just not sure that the proper way to go."

"I understand their dilemma," GBIA president Muriel Carter said. There's a glut of office space, but, "housing might not be the answer," she said.

The best use of the Superblock ought to be "something to bring people downtown." The 1,100-member GBIA has taken no official position.

Even a decade ago, offices could not economically compete with nearby complexes at Baltimore-Washington International Airport; the Westinghouse Corp. considered filling the Superblock with offices, only to take more office space at the airport in 1989.

Earlier, the county had turned down a glorified shopping strip and at least one office proposal during the 1980s, which may have put a damper on more potential developers stepping forward. With no builder in the offing, the real estate market on the skids and the recession hitting local government, the county in 1990 yanked about $2.8 million earmarked for new sewers and other infrastructure improvements to the Superblock out of its budget, Mr. Sulin said.

That money included $500,000 toward a public performance area.

Charles Cusick, who has lived in Glen Burnie for 43 years and is on the GBIA board, said he does not see how high-density housing would enhance that area. "I'd like to see whatever would be an improvement," he said.

"I think it should be some good stores," Mr. Cusick said. However, he said, "I don't know what could be induced to come here."

That's a part of the problem. The site is too small for a mall or large store with parking, and the Glen Burnie area is not crying out for more strip shopping, Mr. Sarro said.

Plenty of plate glass windows in the Ritchie Highway-Crain Highway-Route 648 vicinity bear "for lease" signs. Large stores are vacant up and down Ritchie Highway, Mr. Floyd said.

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