Developer wins praise for helping Odenton

Deals benefit area, not just land broker, residents say

May 23, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

When developer Jay Winer orchestrated a $1.3 million land deal in November in an attempt to get a library branch and community college campus built in Odenton, residents applauded a man who has repeatedly brought county money and projects into their declining town.

That Winer's motives appear as much financial as charitable matters little to residents who have long felt cheated in a county teeming with projects and development in every corner but theirs.

Winer's real estate firm got an $81,000 broker's commission when the county bought land for the library and campus. The purchase also is likely to improve the value of $6.1 million worth of nearby land owned by Winer.

Winer owns or brokers so much property in Odenton that almost any project there eventually benefits him. The county's recently expanded and renamed Piney Orchard Parkway, for example, runs in front of the Piney Orchard housing development he helped build.

But residents see Winer's financial gain as tangential. Winer has become sponsor and savior to this old railroad town where dilapidated Victorian homes and grand front yards once owned by conductors and engineers remind people of a more prosperous time.

For three decades, residents have tried to get the county interested in their area, clinging to a 30-year-old plan for a town center that would replace nondescript strip malls and vacant buildings. But the town center plan is burdened with environmental problems -- wetlands surround the area -- and a lack of county investment.

Winer, in dual roles as land developer and community servant, has brought in money and attention, accomplishing what politicians only promised. Many residents don't care how he managed to do it.

"Does he benefit monetarily? Of course he does," said former County Councilman Bert L. Rice of Odenton. "But there isn't anyone out there that has done more for this area than him. I guess a businessman can't be a supporter of the community at the same time."

Roots in area

Winer was born 52 years ago in Odenton and now lives in Stevenson, in Baltimore County. He still is chairman of the Odenton Town Center Oversight Committee and the Odenton Small Area Planning Committee, and he sits on the board of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

He did not return phone calls for this article.

Many residents know Winer less as a developer than as a man who will sit through long church board meetings, then advise the members for free on how to draw a contract for a day-care center.

Longtime resident Norm Meyers said Winer knows Odenton better than anyone and gives of his time to any group that asks for it.

"He has put a lot into this community," Meyers said. "And he's always been a part of it."

Residents talk about a man who tirelessly attends school board sessions and Odenton Improvement Association sessions, offering his expertise on how to get things done.

"Jay Winer is absolutely the best thing that ever happened to Odenton," said resident and activist Jere Brown. "He doesn't need Odenton. Odenton needs him."

Residents describe Winer as quiet but effective. He helped the Odenton Heritage Society buy and renovate from ruins a historic bank building near the train tracks, showing board members how to acquire property and get the proper zoning permits. He is also active in the Odenton Health Center, which his parents built.

"He's a businessman and he's good at these things," said Wylie Donaldson, Odenton's former fire chief. "Sometimes when a bunch of citizens get together to do something, they may be well-meaning, but they often don't know how to go about things and Jay does."

Residents also credit him with getting them a new school -- Piney Orchard Elementary -- which has been approved by the school board for construction. The county requires developers to help pay for schools in new developments, but the board decides where the schools will be built. Residents say Winer ensured the money got used for an Odenton school.

The son of a Baltimore cabinetmaker, Winer was raised by parents who bought land and joined community groups in Odenton. They moved their cabinetmaking business to Odenton in 1943, at a time when most industry was following the railroad out of town. Not long after that, they started a surfacing company in Odenton -- the National Plastics Co. -- that made textiles, paintbrush bristles, even Barbie doll hair. The company, now a part of International Paper, employs dozens of people from the area.

Some years ago, he extended his reach into Howard County. His family had purchased the historic Savage Mill, a 19th century textile mill, in 1950. As one of the mill's owners, he played a key part in developing it as a shopping and antique complex that opened in 1986.

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