Loch Raven Community Council

Donna Spicer, left, former executive director of the Loch Raven Community Council, speaks during a meeting Monday night at Holy Cross Lutheran in Towson. Also pictured from left are, former councilman, Wayne Skinner, Loch Hill resident Becky Ceraul, and Councilman David Marks. (Staff photo by Jon Meoli / February 25, 2014)

In the face of education and community issues that stretch across traditional neighborhood lines, leaders in the Loch Raven area have joined forces to resurrect the dormant Loch Raven Community Council.

"It's been defunct for a number of years," Councilman David Marks, who represents the area, said. "I wanted to bring it back because I think there's a real value in having the community organizations talking to one another. I also think there are some common issues that need to be addressed."

Fourteen community members from organizations that represent Glendale-Glenmont, Hillendale and Hillendale Park, Loch Hill, Loch Raven Village, Oakleigh Manor and Ridgely Manor attended the a meeting on Jan. 27, which Marks said was held to get an idea of whether those community members thought it was a good idea.

"We had a clear consensus that this was needed," Marks said.

The organization has had a long history in the area, according to former Executive Director Donna Spicer. It was founded in 1956 with future Vice President Spiro Agnew as the organization's first president, and was resurrected after periods of dormancy in 1970 and again in 1991.

In 1991, Spicer said the organization was spurred by a glut of zoning and development issues. They formed a 10-year strategy and had most of it — including reopening the Loch Raven Library, establishing the Hillendale Police Resource Center, and enhancing the Loch Raven Boulevard corridor — finished in five years. She said the organization held its last meeting around 2006.

Thirty people attended the second meeting on Monday.

To the communities involved, a few issues loomed large as their reason for uniting under the familiar umbrella.

Gary Herwig, president of the Associates of Loch Raven Village, said the ongoing school construction issue in the area was his chief concern.

Baltimore County Public Schools is proposing to reopen a school at the Loch Raven Elementary site in Loch Raven Village, and moving students from Halstead Academy to that school, along with some students from Loch Raven Village. Under the proposal, for which state funding is being sought, Cromwell Valley would receive a 189-seat addition and a neighborhood boundary, and Halstead would be renovated for use as a future magnet program.

Herwig and his association say they were not notified of the plan until it was decided on, and oppose any changes to the site, where the old school serves as a community center.

The Halstead component troubled community leaders in Hillendale, who said they didn't hear about it until just a few weeks ago.

"We were never notified that this was going to take place," Susie Watkins, treasurer of the Hillendale Improvement Association, said. "We weren't advised on anything."

Watkins said the students need a school in their community they can be proud of, not to be bussed out of it.

Marks thinks the organization could come to a consensus on the future of the Loch Raven Library, which received funding for full library hours last year. Herwig added that the group could also monitor the proposed Loch Raven Commons development at the former Raytheon building site, which will require a Planned Unit Development.

All who joined said the smaller groups coming together would have more influence under a larger umbrella.

"It just seems like … a regional group like this is going to have more teeth than my little associates of Loch Raven Village," Herwig said. "The only reason people are listening to us is because we haven't stopped talking, but we're a little community association. It seems like if there's a more regional grouping, chances of that group being able to affect some kind of change is better."

Allysha Lorber, president of the Loch Hill Community Association, said: "As a smaller community, I think it's really important for us to work with our neighboring communities on issues, especially issues that affect us all. I think our voice is stronger if we have a unified voice and work together on things."

So far, Herwig said the council has already helped he and Lorber communicate better on each neighborhood's position. Though the communities are barely a mile apart, Herwig said he couldn't pick it out on a map, let alone get in touch with its leadership. They spoke for nearly an hour last week and talked through each community's views on the overcrowding plan.

Lorber and her Loch Hill neighbors, who over the summer joined the Idlewylde community to lobby to remain zoned for Stoneleigh Elementary, supported the Loch Raven Elementary plan because it provided the highest likelihood of not being rezoned.

"We have supported it because our number one interest is to stay within our own community school," Lorber said. "At the same time, I don't think it was necessarily done in a fair process to all the communities that are impacted … . That's another reason I think it's important for a larger council, so we can learn about these issues and help each other."

"It's very easy to get insulated in your own little community," Herwig said.

Spicer, the former executive director, said she was interested to see what other issues arose for the group to deal with. A united focus on education could be enough to get the group started, she said, but a broader issue base makes it easier to lay the groundwork of the council she said.

If that work pays off, the council might be in for another heyday.

"Once you have a couple wins under your belt, it's kind of hard to walk away," Spicer said.