Preparing For Election Day

Town braces for growth amid the BRAC influx

Growth and traffic are key issues in Bel Air

Bel Air

October 28, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

Seeking the chance to take on issues such as growth, traffic and the disruption caused by roadwork along Main Street, seven candidates are on the ballot for Bel Air's biennial election.

They are actively posting signs, mailing fliers, making calls and going door to door. Mayor Terence O. Hanley is stumping from a tractor-drawn hay wagon carrying volunteers through town streets this weekend.

"We need to keep Bel Air alive and growing," said Edward Hopkins III, who has managed campaigns for others and is now running his own. "I think we all have a single-minded purpose to do what is right for this community."

In addition to Hanley and Hopkins, who works at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in Reisterstown, the candidates vying for the three seats up for grabs on Nov. 6 include a former mayor, a recently appointed commissioner, the Planning Commission chairman, a state prosecutor and a volunteer firefighter.

"The issues are the same for each candidate," Hopkins said. "It is all about working with business and community leaders. But it also about being there for the citizen concerned about speeding in his neighborhood."

Hanley, who is seeking a second term, said he "likes the job enough to do it again." His four years in office, including the past two as the board chairman - which carries the honorary title of mayor - have been a learning experience, mostly about building bridges, he said.

"I have built invaluable relationships throughout the county and state," said Hanley, 43, a mortgage company owner. "I am hoping the citizens can put their trust in me for four more years."

Hanley has been involved with state officials on the $8.8 million Main Street revitalization, and has tried to allay the concerns of downtown business owners who have seen a drop in sales as the project impedes pedestrians and vehicles.

Town officials also are working on a comprehensive rezoning that will shape the town's future for the next 10 years, and his experience will be an asset, he said.

"It would be good to have a seasoned commissioner in place," Hanley said.

He considers the transformation of Reckord Armory into a thriving community center after a $220,000 restoration last year a highlight of his tenure, he said.

James M. Decker, a former commissioner seeking a return to office, said he had the foresight to insist the town purchase the turn-of-the-century building during his tenure.

Decker, 79, has the most experienced in town government, which he says means he "can hit the floor running." He served a term on the commission, including a year as mayor, spent a decade on the town's Board of Zoning Appeals and another 10 years on the Planning Commission, including five years as chairman.

"With only 2.9 square miles, there is not much geography left to develop," Decker said. "We have managed to get more homes and places to shop and eat, but with that, we have also gotten the traffic."

Zoning, which governs everything from building height to facade guidelines, is critical to preserving Bel Air's small-town atmosphere, he said.

Patrick T. Richards, 42, the current Planning Commission chairman, said growth issues figured into his decision to run. Of particular concern is what BRAC, the expansion of military bases coming to Aberdeen Proving Ground, will mean to the county seat, he said. Harford's population will grow by thousands of residents in the next four years, according to BRAC officials.

"The county and town will have crucial growth issues to work through," Richards said. "We will have to take a more global view of development and how it affects town citizens."

Richards, who manages corporate real estate for Laureate Education Inc., said his business experience will help him deal with development pressures.

John W. Janowich, 49, owned two small businesses in the county before he opened a law practice in Bel Air. Now an assistant public defender, he is running for commissioner "to make sure we maintain the services and high quality of life that we have now," he said.

"It is time for me to give back to the community," Janowich said. "We have to preserve the past and our small-town values, as we prepare for the future, especially for BRAC, and keep up with population growth. There will have to be a balance."

Robert J. Reier, 42, is seeking to continue in the job to which he was appointed nearly a year ago to fill out the term of James V. McMahan, who moved on after being elected to the County Council.

"It has been an educational experience that has involved me in many town events," Reier said.

With a chiropractic practice in town, Reier said he understands the concerns of the business community, particularly about traffic and parking.

"The fact that there are no hot-button issues in this campaign means the commission is doing its job," Reier said.

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