Residents say there's a lot to like about Edgewood, but much that could stand improvement, from more places to eat to better housing choices.
How to plan for the southwestern Harford County community's future was the focus of a forum held Tuesday evening at the Patrick Daily and Mark Logsdon Memorial Post 17 of the American Legion.
Sponsored by the Harford County Office of Economic Development, the forum was the first public interaction with consultants and county staff who are engaged in the Edgewood Small Area Study, a federally funded study that county officials say will lay the groundwork for community development efforts.
"Think of this as a holistic approach," county Economic Development Director Karen Holt, told the gathering. "It's not a housing plan, not a business plan, it's an Edgewood plan."
About 80 people attended the informal forum, as many stood around chatting in small groups, and there was a brief question-and-answer period.
One visitor asked for a show of hands of how many people in the room live in Edgewood, as opposed to being an elected official or connected to the government. About 50 raised their hands.
Easels holding different maps and sounding boards were arranged in the center of the room. On some, visitors were asked to post sticky notes or dots, depending on questions mounted on the individual boards.
For instance, one map requested that the visitor place a dot where he or she lives; another asked for a note to be posted on the map showing "what are the places you LOVE in Edgewood." The Flying Point Park and Izaak Walton League preserve along Otter Point Creek and Bush River received the most notes. Others receiving mention were schools, the MARC train station, Cunion Field recreation complex on Trimble Road and "all places you can fish and crab."
Another easel asked, "What's missing in Edgewood?" Responses included: "Need another grocery store;" "more senior activities;" "a year-round homeless shelter;" "improved shopping on Route 40;" "more walking and bike trails;" "movie theaters;" "better restaurants;" "nothing to keep people after work;" and a rhetorical, "Why come to Edgewood?"
Jennifer Reitz, of the consulting firm Thomas Comitta Associates from West Chester, Pa., said her firm is working with Frederick Ward Associates of Bel Air to produce what will be a community land use and marketing study, the latter being done by Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which did a marketing study for the Bel Air Downtown Alliance two years ago.
"We want to get a real sense of what is going on here," explained Reitz, who said they would be looking at potential uses for vacant tracts in the community and will have a final report out by mid-October. "You will see results very quickly," she added.
In addition to working with the county economic development office and the Army, the consultants have assembled a steering committee of residents and business owners, several of whom also were present Tuesday.
Others in hall included Harford Community College President Dianna Phillips, new Edgwood Middle School Principal Melissa K. Mickey, Harford County Board of Education member Jansen Robinson, Harford County Council members James McMahan, Curtis Beulah and Patrick Vincenti, former councilman Dion Guthrie and Havre de Grace City Councilwoman Monica Worrell.
"This is important stuff," said Worrell, who works in the Edgewood area and noted she bought her first home in the Woodbridge Center community when it was first developed on Edgewood's west side during the 1980s.
By U.S. Postal Service ZIP code, Edgewood is bordered by Interstate 95 on the north, Bush River on the east, Route 152 on the west and the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground on the south.
The presence of the military installation and its nearly 100-year impact on the neighboring community is one of the focal points of the $59,000 study, which is funded through the Defense Department's Office of Economic Adjustment.
That area encompasses three U.S. Census tracts and a portion of a third that is also in the Joppa ZIP code. The three tracts south of Route 40, covering about 7.3 square miles, had just over 21,700 residents in the 2010 Census, about 9 percent of county's total population of 245,000, and roughly 8.5 percent of 95,500 households.
This housing mix runs the gamut from renovated World War II government-built apartments to 1960s style suburban tract housing to mixed use developments from the 1970s and 80s and new single-family homes and townhouses under construction. Edgewood also has a considerable number of neighborhoods with subsidized housing.
The Army's presence over the last 100 years has been a blessing and a curse, according to many residents. It helped the community flourish in the two decades following World War II and the downsizing of the military in the post-Vietnam era contributed to pockets of decay.
One resident at Tuesday's meeting complained to Holt that Edgewood got no benefit from the base relocation process, or BRAC, that brought thousands of government and contractor jobs to APG during the 2000s, saying people were "steered away" from Edgewood and all the military jobs do for the community is "tie up roads" when people come and go to work.
Holt, the economic development director, agreed that most of the BRAC jobs and other economic benefits went to the Aberdeen area of the military installation, but she also said there is much more current economic potential for Edgewood because of all the chemical, biological and medical research being done locally.
"The greatest potential for growth is at Edgewood," she said.
One suggestion tossed out to Holt was to make it easier for people who want to start a business to navigate the approval processes required by the county and to better publicize what benefits businesses can get from the Edgewood area's enterprise zone.
Visitors were also asked to chose among a series of listed wants and needs. Most chosen was "attract more restaurants and destinations," followed by "walkable village and train station."
Notably, "safety in my neighborhood," was ranked much lower by those who responded. Fifteen years ago, when parts of Edgewood were considered by police and many residents to be the epicenter of gang-related violence in Harford County, that wouldn't have been the case, but on Tuesday night none of the talk about what Edgewood needs to move forward centered on crime issues.
Holt said she thought the turnout for the forum was good, "and the interaction was good." A second forum is planned for Sept. 12 time and place to be announced.