From Harford County Councilman Mike Perrone Jr.:
We all see it; and many of us have watched it grow over the course of generations: blight.
It has made its way along the Route 40 Corridor in much the same way that it has taken hold in Baltimore City and so many of our other urban centers. Our free market economy drives our quality of life, but it also leaves behind the brick and mortar it no longer needs.
Before we try to figure out what can be done about this, I think we need to make sure that we fully understand blight’s causes. I have listened and learned over the course of my first year on the Council, and there are three dynamics particular to the Southern Route 40 Corridor which stand out to me.
The first of those dynamics was the construction of Interstate 95. Prior to 50 years ago, Route 40 thrived because it was the main thoroughfare through Harford County. Once 95 came along, much of the traffic that drove (pun intended) economic activity along Route 40 was diverted elsewhere.
The second dynamic is the size of the parcels and lots along Route 40, as compared with many of the parcels elsewhere throughout the County. Many of the parcels and lots along Route 40 in Joppa and Edgewood are less than 2 acres in size. We can see how this would make life difficult for investors who might otherwise want to redevelop the area; it would be much easier to purchase a single large parcel elsewhere than it would be to string together multiple deals with multiple property owners in order to acquire the same amount of land.
The third dynamic is what has played out due in large part to the second. Going back several decades, most of the large-scale commercial developments in the southern part of the County have taken place along the Route 24 corridor and not the Route 40 corridor (e.g. Festival, Constant Friendship, and Box Hill). These projects represented investment dollars that could have flowed into the Route 40 Corridor, but didn’t.
This is where government needs to walk a fine line. We owe our prosperity in this country in large part to our system of property rights and the free market economy that those rights give rise to, and I firmly believe that the more we try to plan our way to prosperity, the less prosperous we will be. But there is a balance that needs to be struck. When we look at how many development projects in Harford County have gotten underway in communities that don’t want those projects, while communities like Edgewood and Joppatowne would welcome much of that commercial investment, we have to recognize that we have a problem.
I can think of two approaches to dealing with this problem. The first is to ensure that the problem is recognized during next year’s Master Plan update and the Comprehensive Rezoning process that will follow.
The second lies in identifying what regulations may exist at the County (and State) levels that may be obstructing re-development efforts so we can take a fresh look at those regulations and re-evaluate whatever might need to be re-evaluated. I have recently set out to do this.
I’m not an expert in these matters, so I welcome every bit of feedback that I can get. If you have any perspective on blight and redevelopment you would like to share with me, please do so.