William C. McDonnell, 78, first head of Valleys Planning Council group


William C. McDonnell, an urban planner who served as first executive director of the Green Spring-Worthington Valley Planning Council, died of lung cancer March 6 at his Stoneleigh residence. He was 78.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Govans, Mr. McDonnell was a graduate of Towson Catholic High School. He was 17 when he enlisted in the Navy during the waning days of World War II and served as a radarman in the Pacific.

After being discharged, he took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled at Washington College in Chestertown, where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1952.

He began his business career in Baltimore in 1953 as a systems and procedures planner with Olin-Mathieson Corp., and in 1957, he became resident planner for a Hyattsville planning consultant who was developing a comprehensive plan for Washington County.

After completing the Washington County Comprehensive Plan, he returned to Baltimore in 1959 and joined the planning council of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

After the completion of the Charles Center Plan in 1958, he worked on comprehensive design plans for Annapolis and Laurel while earning a master's degree in planning from the Johns Hopkins University in 1964.

From 1963 to 1964, he worked as a resident planner for the Philadelphia-based architectural firm of Wallace-McHarg.

"David Wallace and his associate, Ian McHarg, had contracted to develop a plan to guide the future of then Green Spring and Worthington valleys," said his wife of 49 years, the former Constance E. Mueller. "The group prepared a visionary, nationally renowned document designed to guide limited but inevitable development of the valleys, meanwhile preserving their ecological and visually sensitive character."

From 1964 to 1974, Mr. McDonnell was executive director for the Green Spring-Worthington Valley Planning Council, now called the Valleys Planning Council and expanded to include a wider area, and saw the implementation of Wallace-McHarg's development plan for the Baltimore County valleys.

In 1974, Mr. McDonnell helped establish the Citizens' League of Baltimore Inc., which studied urban problems including education and solid-waste disposal.

From 1987 until retiring in 1995, he was director of the Hunt Valley Transportation Association which advocated extension of the Maryland Transit Administration's light rail line to serve Hunt Valley businesses.

Mr. McDonnell was a history buff whose interests centered on the Colonial period, the Revolutionary War and World War II. He also was interested in postwar European history and urban planning.

He was also an avid fan of big-band music, sea stories and classic Hollywood motion pictures.

A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Isaac Jogues Roman Catholic Church, 9400 Old Harford Road.

Also surviving are a son, Christopher A. McDonnell of Fort Lauderdale; three daughters, Elizabeth M. Belli of Ellicott City, Anne M. Sill of Woodstock and Katherine L. McDonnell of Voorheesville, N.Y.; and four grandchildren.

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