Community in Harford to be spared demolition

Utility company agrees to give Conowingo Village to state or nonprofit group

January 22, 2001|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Conowingo Village, an abandoned Harford County neighborhood scheduled for demolition, has been granted a reprieve.

Representatives of Exelon Generation, the Pennsylvania utility company whose subsidiary, Susquehanna Electric Co., owns the 15-acre property, agreed to donate the community to a Maryland governmental or nonprofit agency. They informed the county's legislative delegation in Annapolis on Friday.

"I'm relieved we can still explore some possibilities," said Del. Barry Glassman, a Harford Republican who worked to save the picturesque neighborhood bordering the Susquehanna River. "We want to make sure we find the right use for the area."

The 16 single-family and duplex homes, built in 1928, once housed Conowingo Dam executives and workers. Since the mid-1980s, the English Tudor-style houses, off Shuresville Road and U.S. 1 in northeast Harford, have been rented to tenants with no connection to the dam. The renters received notices in the summer to leave the property by Oct. 31.

Exelon officials, who said that the company did not want to continue to serve as landlords, maintained that the homes had deteriorated and weren't worth restoring. They had planned to raze them in November until county officials and residents became involved.

"I think it's wonderful," said Jane Howe, a resident of nearby Darlington who helped to mobilize the community to protect the village. "There is a sense of relief that the houses have been saved. The next frontier will be what the usage will be."

Glassman said he and other legislators will talk with officials of the state Department of Natural Resources and explore the possibility of making the area part of the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, a network of trails along the Susquehanna.

He said that suggestions to locate a drug-rehabilitation center or homeless clients on the property have been ruled out.

"It is such a secluded area," Glassman said. "There is no public transportation. There is no job base."

Another idea is to transfer the property to a nonprofit land trust under which the homes could be restored for residential use, Glassman said. They could not be sold for a profit, however, under one of the conditions sought by Exelon in exchange for the property transfer.

Other restrictions requested by the utility company call for the continued use of a siren to warn fishermen and others on high-river days when the dam gates are opened, and keeping a water tower on the property.

"More importantly for us ... is that there is public acceptance ... and meetings scheduled," said Gregory M. Cary, a governmental affairs manager with PECO Energy Co., an Exelon company, who addressed the Harford legislators Friday.

The company decided to turn over the property, he said, after discussing what would be best for the community.

Cary also asked Harford legislators about the time frame for donating the land, noting concerns about vandalism and liability issues.

"We will try to resolve this as quickly as possible," said Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Harford Democrat. "We do not want to delay this."

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