Planner will leave post after six years Caroline County resident taking job closer to home

November 01, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County is losing one of its most respected planners, Helen M. Spinelli, to Maryland Rural Development Corp., a nonprofit company that helps small communities with water and sewer management.

The chance to improve life in Caroline County, her home, and eliminate an arduous commute made the decision to leave easier for Spinelli, who joined Carroll's Planning Department in 1990.

"After six years, it is really hard to go," she said. "I have made a lot of friends and grown a lot professionally."

Since she was hired as a comprehensive planner for water and sewer projects, Spinelli has traveled 800 miles a week -- 100 miles each way four days a week -- from Caroline County to Westminster. The trip takes about an hour and 45 minutes each way.

Her new job will be in Greensboro, four miles from her waterfront home in the same Caroline County town.

By Carroll County standards, the Eastern Shore county of 29,000 people is small and impoverished.

"It is a good opportunity, doing much for the community that doesn't have the services that Carroll County provides," she said. "I have really cherished the time here and the people I have worked with. I hope I can create the same atmosphere at my new place."

At age 45, Spinelli has spent most of her career in public service, "working with communities and finding what is best for them in a consensus-building way. Water and sewer are critical. [They drive] where we put development."

She will be in a county office building, but sharing space with 320 children in the Head Start program, a federal housing program, medical transport services, local administrative offices and a library.

Her staff includes two people who alternate duties among three counties, and six Vista volunteers.

"We plan to avail ourselves of all available resources and funnel them into the community," Spinelli said.

Spinelli can look back on many accomplishments in Carroll County. Communities, including Pleasant Valley, Cranberry and Lineboro, have improved their water systems with her guidance.

"You can do anything when you have people who care about their community and whatever you do, it will always be better," she said. "Any plan has to be done with the community. They have to hold it in their hearts and say it is important to them."

She played a leading role as Sykesville developed its Small Town Planning Guidelines, working every week for six months with a volunteer planning commission -- "a really eclectic group that truly wanted to make the town a better place," she said.

They created a plan that allows the town to develop but keep its community flavor.

Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, a former chairman of that commission, said: "Helen has had a great influence on town planning, and she brought a real consistency to county planning. It was easy to follow her vision for Carroll County.

"Without her, a lot of us will be wondering where we're going. Her understanding of this area will be difficult to replace."

Spinelli also developed a policy for water and sewer projects, which the county adopted last year -- "a real step forward in saying we have problems and how we are going to work on them," she said.

She saw a 10-year-old landscape plan for the Liberty Road corridor come to fruition, although she credits South Carroll Business Association for making that project happen.

The first time she met with the association she was amazed at their tenacity and vision.

"They looked at [Route] 26 and decided the way it looked was decreasing business opportunities," she said.

Trees have been planted along the corridor, and more plantings will occur this month.

"Helen was an incredibly valuable asset to us and worked closely with us on the landscape project," said Ben Rogers, association president. "She embraced our ideas, presented them to county government and took the steps necessary to implement the plan."

The association had approached Spinelli about making a park out of a vacant lot at Route 26 and Hemlock Drive.

"Helen has the ball rolling, and we will continue working on the project," Rogers said.

Since May, Spinelli has been reworking the 19-year-old Freedom mini-comprehensive plan with input from citizens groups. She has participated in a survey of 8,350 people, meetings with 180 residents and the creation of the Freedom Advisory Council.

The Freedom revision, which includes Sykesville and Eldersburg, incomplete. The analysis will fall to the new planner, but she envisions success.

"With an activist population, the sky is the limit," Spinelli said. "The challenge to them is to redevelop, to analyze and come up with plausible solutions."

Freedom has become the county's most populous area, by design. It absorbs about one-third of all new construction annually.

"We are now working on a second level of planning to accommodate redevelopment for a maturing community and a significant population base that needs to be accommodated," Spinelli said.

"It is important to listen and acknowledge everyone's concerns," she said. "Have patience and always remember the big picture -- how what you are considering will affect everybody."

And, "don't stop dreaming. It creates the future."

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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