Proud of stability, new vitality Tax incentives help Lansdowne area attract employers

May 11, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

On a small garden patch tucked inside the Beltway Trailer Park in Lansdowne, tomato vines are staked and stretching toward heaven. As winter's chill blends into spring, even the most experienced gardener might tsk at such optimism.

But not in this blue-collar community, which has often seen rough times and toughed them out.

Today, as the southernmost anchor of one of Baltimore County's enterprise zones, Lansdowne is poised to bloom as area businesses including Super Fresh, United Parcel Service and Baltimore Door & Frame Co., using tax incentives, have grown with $26.7 million in capital investments and jobs since December 1996.

The latest shot in the arm for the zone, which includes Arbutus, Halethorpe, Riverview and Baltimore Highlands was news last week of about $19 million in investments to refurbish the Stroh Brewery Co., a hulking, vacant landmark off the Baltimore

Beltway where 430 jobs were eliminated when the brewery closed two years ago.

"That building has been vacant for quite a long time, and this will continue to breathe new vitality into the Lansdowne area," said Baltimore County Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat whose district includes Lansdowne. "The area is continuing to move forward."

About 35 jobs will be added as the plant is converted into a food processing center by Washington Quality Food Products. The company also will move 100 workers to the Lansdowne location from its Oella plant about 10 miles away.

Many say Lansdowne's reputation for stability and stamina, rooted in the German and Irish families who live within its confines, has helped fuel the area's growth.

More like Mayberry than Maryland, it is a community whose gateway is a trailer park. Its two-mile main drag is home to a television repair shop, a hair salon and a chimney sweep. The parish priest at St. Clement I Roman Catholic Church affectionately describes Lansdowne as the "Essex of the west side."

While the town is often the butt of jokes, Lansdownians for years have reveled in their place at the bottom of the south-of-Catonsville social scene.

'Our Taj Mahal'

"We've got our Taj Mahal and we want to keep it that way," says Robert Seay, who has lived in the Beltway Trailer Park for 29 years. "Here, it's nice, quiet and peaceful. We've got all income levels living here -- from elderly to young couples. It's a multitude of people."

For the 13,427 families who live in tidy cottages and town homes, everyday life consists of fund-raisers by the Lansdowne Volunteer Fire Department, all-you-can-eat chicken and steamed shrimp dinners at the Lansdowne Inn and stories told by Jake Miller, the 66-year-old town auctioneer who owns a 100-plus-year-old leather U.S. Mail bag and dinner buckets used by Baltimore and Ohio Railroad workers.

Miller, the town's historian and president of the Lansdowne Improvement Association, recalls that outhouses were used in Lansdowne as recently as the 1960s. The first cars traveled over roads made of oyster shells, he said.

But as the town approaches a new century, many say it's time not only to continue modernizing, but to tackle economic as well as social problems, such as juvenile crime, teen pregnancy and domestic violence. Leaders from Lansdowne and neighboring Riverview and Baltimore Highlands formed the Southwestern Leadership Team to deal with those woes.

"I feel the area is more stable now than it was eight or nine years ago," said the Rev. Steven Girard, priest at St. Clement I for 11 years and one of the team members. "A lot has been done to keep us stable -- we've pulled ourselves together. We've pooled our resources to work hard at stability."

The area's designation as one of the county's two enterprise zones allows companies to take property tax credits of 80 percent of their new investments for five years -- and a one-time state income tax credit of $500 to $3,000 for each worker hired. That has helped create 152 jobs.

Other initiatives are at work.

Associated Catholic Charities has broken ground for a 64-unit senior living complex between Lansdowne and Riverview on Hollins Ferry Road. A new Police Athletic Center opened in October. Next year's county budget calls for improvements to Sandy Hills Park and a small library to replace a larger one that was closed because of budget cuts by former County Executive Roger B. Hayden.

But the big push is for jobs.

The 1996 closing of the Stroh brewery left many residents unemployed, Girard said. The unemployment rate in Lansdowne remains about 1 percent higher than the overall county average of 5 percent, said Robert L. Hannon, executive director of the county's economic development office.

Many workers who lost their high-paying jobs at Stroh's are looking for work or settling for positions with lower wages.

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