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Mr. Ruchlewicz's mark

When Stan Ruchlewicz was hired roughly two decades ago to be the head of the Havre de Grace Planning Department, it was at a time of transition for the city.

It was clear he would have little difficulty getting along with the rest of the staff in the planning department because he would pretty much be it. At the time, the development of Bayview Estates was just getting under way, and the annexation of what is now Grace Harbour had survived a petition drive that sought to overturn that annexation and upend development plans.

Subsequently, Gunther D. Hirsch was elected mayor and he embarked upon a methodical reorganization of city government. Some people left of their own accord. Others were asked to leave. Mr. Ruchlewicz was hired to replace one of those who left shortly after Hirsch was elected.

He entered a tumult not of his making and quickly eased fears of Hirsch's political opponents. Quick-witted and in possession of twinkling eyes, it was clear he was someone who took his job as planning director seriously, but not so seriously that it dominated his life.

Born and raised in Reading, Pa., he had worked for a time in that small city's planning office before taking the director's job in the smaller city of Havre de Grace. It's fair to say he and his family fit right in. Mr. Ruchlewicz was a fan of drum and bugle corps competitions, adept at writing scores for such ensembles and Havre de Grace had long been home to such a competition each Fourth of July or there about.

As planning director, he was always looking for a way to jump start relatively small downtown projects. He was the government help behind an early re-incarnation of the old grocery store at the foot of Congress Avenue. On the residential growth front, he was an advocate of a brand of zoning that sought to interject a measure of real life flexibility into what can be rather limiting regulations. The regulatory balance struck early on in the city's expansion that took off under Mr. Ruchlewicz unfortunately seems to have faded into a rather weak brand of development management, but that's an issue for another day.

Mr. Ruchlewicz saw in Havre de Grace a city comparable to dozens of similar communities in his native Pennsylvania that struggled to strike a balance between encouraging various kinds of development to ensure a measure of economic viability even as they also tried to preserve more homespun aspects so as to retain the qualities that made them appealing in the first place.

To this end, even as he oversaw substantial suburban development, he also continued to advocate for keeping what these days could be characterized as old town Havre de Grace economically viable. Even as there were plenty of people in the city who envisioned a day when Havre de Grace would be the retail center it was prior to the opening of shopping malls, he was nudging the downtown community in the niche business and restaurant direction. Though his oft-cited vision of a brew pub and peanut bar where patrons could much peanuts and toss their shells on the floor never came to fruition, in many ways the middle class night life-oriented aspects of downtown Havre de Grace owe at least a tip of the hat to Mr. Ruchlewicz.

Stan Ruchlewicz moved on about a decade ago to take a planning job in Carroll County, and it would have appeared he had many years ahead to make his mark there as well, but he died last Friday at 56. If his time in Havre de Grace is any indication, he leaves many small projects in the works that have the potential to have a big effect.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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