After 8 years, Dillon giving up Valleys Planning Council post

As executive director, he's helped save thousands of acres in Balto. County

April 06, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

J. John "Jack" Dillon, a longtime land preservationist who has spent decades saving Baltimore County's rural areas, is planning to step down as executive director of the Valleys Planning Council this year.

Dillon said that after eight years running the influential land preservation group - and 42 years after he started working in county planning - it is time to move on. The planning council's board has started interviewing candidates for Dillon's replacement.

"I think change is good," Dillon said of his decision. "I think it's good for individuals; I think it's good for organizations."

He said he isn't sure what he wants to do, besides taking time for fishing and traveling.

"It might be interesting to do something else," he said, and not necessarily in planning.

Dillon will leave the job having seen 50,000 rural Baltimore County acres preserved. About 10,000 of those acres are in one block in the northwest county, a particularly important preservation achievement.

"Jack has just been a fixture in Baltimore County," said Kathleen Pontone, secretary of the Valleys Planning Council. "He knows all the history, he knows all the players. He just has an abiding respect for the land."

Dillon started as a planner for Baltimore County in 1962, when the county was booming with residential development and jobs.

In the 1970s, he helped create a rural zone that allowed, with some exceptions, one house for every 50 acres, a move that helped the county start an agricultural preservation program.

"Baltimore County has had some of the most forward-thinking zoning in the country, and Jack has been largely responsible for that," said George C. Doub, president of the Valleys Planning Council.

Soon after Dillon retired from his county post in 1996, John Bernstein, then-director of the Valleys Planning Council, asked Dillon to be his successor.

"I think he's probably done more than anybody else for land preservation in Baltimore County," Bernstein said.

As executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, Dillon has worked with neighborhood associations and other preservation groups across the county, board members said. He has helped spread the word that preserving agricultural, historic and scenic land benefits the whole region, not just the well-off Green Spring and Worthington valleys.

"The organization clearly has become more interested in forging better ties with community groups, in establishing more of a regional presence," Pontone said. "One of the organization's concerns is that it's viewed by some as just a small group of upper-crust types trying to protect its own turf. I don't think people think that anymore."

Dillon created the annual McHarg Award for people who work for land preservation in Baltimore County. The award is named for renowned landscape architect and urban planner Ian McHarg, whose philosophy of growth management inspired the Valleys Planning Council's - and Dillon's - approach toward preservation and development.

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