A forum of about 80 people who gathered last night for a brainstorming session on what to do with Glen Burnie's Superblock agreed on several fundamental issues.
Among the most basic: Lose the name.
"I would like to get rid of the Superblock idea and give it a whole new name," said Kathy DeGrange, a member of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association board.
Superblock just does not convey the concept of what residents want to see in the 5.6-acre plot next to the Arundel Center North town center.
County planning officials and the Glen Burnie Urban Renewal Advisory Committee have worked for years to develop the Superblock, without success. They decided to give citizens a shot.
Participants in the forum at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association Hall were given a brief summary of previous proposals for the site. But then the organizers broke participants into five working groups and told them to dream a bit.
"We're starting tonight as if there were no plan," said Ardath M. Cade, county planning and zoning officer.
Almost every group supported a low-rise development with shops and residential units, such as apartments and condominiums. They wanted the new development to become a gathering place for their neighbors, with a central feature, such as an amphitheater or square.
"I think the community really wants something they can use, like a plaza or a square," said Craig Purcell, an Annapolis architect who reported on the results of his working group.
Tom Guckenburg, a commercial real estate agent, said, "We wouldn't want to see massive buildings. We wouldn't want to see a huge downtown. Twenty years from now, when we drive to Glen Burnie, would we want to see another apartment complex or something that would make us proud of Glen Burnie?"
But people did not want to see a suburban strip mall, either.
"We want it to be a town center, which is somewhere between the two extremes," said resident Charles Brenton, who owns a landscape architecture business in Glen Burnie.
The current Superblock plan, as originally conceived in 1986, was to build a 200,000-square-foot office complex with a five-story parking garage on the site that is bordered by Ritchie and Crain highways and Delaware Avenue. It is used now as a parking lot with a kiosk, selling plants and produce, operating on it.
County officials hoped that one major tenant would lease most of the office space.
They almost got their wish in 1988, when the Westinghouse Electric Corp. proposed moving some of its offices there. But negotiations broke down and the company built in Linthicum.
The county has stubbornly clung to that original plan, although downsizing it to 170,000 square feet. Suggestions for other uses -- especially residential units -- have been resisted, based on the argument that an office complex would bring more people into downtown Glen Burnie.
But the county has not been able to find a developer who agrees to business-use only. Four developers recently expressed interest in the Superblock, but all of them said they would participate only if they could build residential units instead of office or retail space.
Nearly one-fourth of the office space in the North County is vacant, and developers say it would be nearly impossible to obtain financing in this poor economy to build such a complex.
The county has considered merely holding onto the land and postponing development until the economy improves and the 1986 plan can be implemented.