Aberdeen's top officials talk zoning, public relations ideas for next four years

Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett, left, and members of the City Council discuss a variety of issues relating to the city during Saturday's retreat.
Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett, left, and members of the City Council discuss a variety of issues relating to the city during Saturday's retreat. (MARISSA GALLO, Record staff)

Zoning changes, public relations, better parking and a revitalization of Downtown Aberdeen are all ideas developed during the city's first planning retreat of Mayor Michael Bennett's new term.

Ideas were generated by Bennett, city council members and city government employees gathered in the boardroom at Cal Sr.'s Yard next to Ripken Stadium Saturday morning to outline goals for the city and come up with solutions on how to bring more revenue to Aberdeen, make it more community friendly and marketable.


"Much of what we do is action on what is thrust upon us," Aberdeen City Manager Doug Miller said. Saturday morning's retreat, however, was an opportunity for city officials to plan how to achieve their goals for the next three and a half years.

City Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said the city has already done "some really good things, but I think we need to do some better things," such as financially plan for what the mayor and other council members would like to see happen.


When discussing their ideas for a better Downtown Aberdeen, Bennett said what was pretty much on everyone's mind: "Downtown is pretty much dead."

He elaborated, describing the few restaurants that are there, the post office - which citizens don't prefer going to, he added - and the state parole and probation regional office.

Bennett said he wanted to see some bigger restaurants open downtown, possibly some pubs.

"Something to pull people to the downtown area," he said. A big hurdle the city would have to overcome to have that happen: the city's building height restrictions.

"We have to grow up instead of out," Bennett continued.

Landbeck agreed, saying the zoning regulations have to change. She gave the example of quaint towns along the Eastern Shore that have thriving downtowns.

Miller mentioned that another aspect of a downtown revitalization would be distinguishing the difference between "have-to" and "want-to" retail stores, Walmart being have-to retail and an antique store or boutique would be want-to retail.

Councilman Bruce Garner joined the discussion, saying if there were new life in downtown Aberdeen then some current businesses would be more inclined to clean up and be more visually appealing.

"To bring all of this together you have to bring the parking," Councilwoman Ruth Elliott said.

The Route 40 corridor also brought several ideas to the table that also fit into a downtown revitalization.

Landbeck proposed an idea of a concierge service that would cater to train station patronage, such as a place to get coffee or dry cleaning.

"Route 40 isn't going to be as bad for us" to market, Landbeck said, as opposed to Downtown Aberdeen.


Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young agreed.

"These businesses will want to be there," she said.

To make that happen, Bennett repeated, changing height restrictions for buildings is "a must."

Bennett and council members also agreed on making the entrance into Aberdeen via Route 22 more presentable.

Elliott brought up the issue of boarded-up houses along the road that are visible right as drivers enter the city.

"Right now it is what it is …because it's private property," Bennett said, saying the city can't enforce cleaning up that area, but the state possibly could.

An educational research park, sports facility or upscale apartment complex were ideas thrown out to enhance the integrated business district around Ripken Stadium.

Since the original idea of building The Village at Carsins Run retirement community on 138 acres between Long Drive and Aldino-Stepney Road fell through last year, "the economy has changed," Bennett said.

The city doesn't want to give up on revamping that area, however, and it was agreed that a marketing study would be beneficial.

Other brainstorming ideas that came from Saturday's planning retreat include:

A redevelopment of Aberdeen's east side, as suggested by several council members.

Bennett said, "Financially, the city is in good condition," but that isn't to say there won't be issues that arise when he and the council discuss the city budget soon.

The topic of a public relations employee or committee was brought up consistently between the city council and mayor, all agreeing that something or someone was needed, but they are not sure how to go about it or if it is affordable.

Young and Landbeck suggested creating a city newsletter or partnering with a high school or Harford Community College's newspaper to create another media outlet to get news out to the public.

The city wants to do more for crisis management in case of an emergency, such as in the case of a hurricane, tornado or other natural disaster.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun