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Cecil County Life

Perryville’s popularity

Dec 01, 2023 03:03PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

The new Great Wolf Lodge is merely the most dramatic example of the growth in Perryville, which involves multiple proposals for housing and commercial construction and improving the town itself.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Mayor Matt Roath said of infrastructure projects. “There are just so many.”

So many that the town is investing $20 million to $30 million in recent and upcoming infrastructure improvements. A lot involves necessary elements likes roadways and water and sewage lines, but it also involves fun things like dog parks, an upgraded waterfront park and more shops downtown.

Plus, the new $85 million Interstate 95 interchange with Belvidere Road is expected to encourage economic development in the area and reduce commercial traffic that at times bedevils local roads.

All told, Roath believes the town of 4,500 – the second-largest in Cecil County – might have 50% more people in five years. And more jobs. And more stores. And more places to enjoy life.

“We are fielding unprecedented interest in both residential and commercial growth,” he wrote on his Mayor Matt Roath Facebook page.

One thing that’s not involved in the projected growth is warehouses that have been floated for the site of the demolished outlets on Heather Lane. “I’m not amenable to that,” Roath said, echoing other town leaders. “We have higher expectations.”

In the planning stages

Perryville has an unusual shape, with thin fingers of its 3 square miles extending east along the Pulaski Highway and north along Perrvyille Road. A big reason for that shape are annexations that provide access to the town’s water and sewage systems, Roath said, because wells and septic systems are not feasible for large-scale development.

Applications are in to annex another 40 to 60 acres, he added, and there have been discussions to annex 120 acres beyond that. A square mile is 640 acres.

The water plant is being upgraded and expanded, but the “sewer is more an issue,” partly from hilly terrain that necessitates pumping stations. “When I became mayor, I had no idea I would be talking about water and sewer like it’s gold,” he said.

Five housing developments are in various stages, Roath said. They include 82 homes in Cedar Meadows, off Cedar Corner Road; 60 to 65 homes off Mill Creek Avenue; 40 higher-density homes in Woodlands, off Coudon Boulevard; 22 homes at the end of Charles Street; and a project not yet defined near the police station, on Otsego Street

Construction on the I-95 interchange, just south of the Chesapeake House rest area, began in October of 2022 and is expected to open in the fall of 2025. The new Exit 95 will include ramps in a partial cloverleaf pattern for access to and from Belvidere and northbound and southbound I-95, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The exit will shift local traffic patterns. “That’ll be fantastic for our community, which – and I hate to use the word – is harassed by large trucks,” Roath said.

Quality of life

All’s not rosy. The University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, a four-mile drive from Perryville municipal offices, is expected to close by next spring, with services transferred to the new UM Upper Chesapeake Health and Wellness Center in Aberdeen, 9 miles away, and its Ambulatory surgery center under construction in Bel Air, 17 miles away. ChristianaCare Union Hospital in Elkton is 14 miles away.

“We’re in a precarious situation,” Roath said. “We’ve had conversations with medical providers to find out how we can better serve our community as we grow.”

“For generations, our community has depended on the resources of Havre de Grace and those types for our basic shopping needs, but we’re doing our best to change that dynamic,” Roath said. “That’s really what my administration is focused on – not providing a more lucrative tourist economy but making our community livable for the people who live here and will be in the future.”

For instance, the town is looking to improve Ice House Park from a few picnic tables on the Susquehanna to “a community staple”; turn part of Lower Ferry Park, near 5th Company Brewing, into a retail center akin to downtown Havre de Grace and add a train-themed design for the play area; turn an acre of Perryville Community Park into a dog park and add electricity service to the park; and find room for another dog park downtown (how about off Roundhouse Drive?).

“I’d like to see more options for people,” Roath said. “I hate the feeling that we are a community where people work elsewhere, entertain themselves elsewhere and spend their money elsewhere. That’s not an equation for community pride. I’d love to have more sit-down restaurants. And there’s a proposal for one at Captain Lee’s Marina.”

In 2022, Perryville created a part-time job of a community events coordinator, and Roath wants to add responsibilities to make the job full time. “Our community’s momentum cannot wane,” he wrote on Facebook. “I’m willing to invest to make sure it does not.”

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Large employers in the area include the Perry Point VA Medical Center (1,200 employees), Great Wolf (1,000 employees), the IKEA distribution center (484 employees), Hollywood Casino Perryville (336 employees) and Amtrak’s Perryville maintenance area (311 employees).

The Principio Business Park, five miles northeast of Perryville, offers huge potential for jobs as well. Buildings cover 7 million square feet, and it’s only partly developed.

And then there’s the former Bainbridge Naval Center, six miles north of Perryville and just outside Port Deposit. The 1,185-acre tract, zoned for business and light industrial, is being developed in phases, said Toni Sprenkle, executive director of the Bainbridge Development Corp.

The first phase, on 444 acres, is projected for up to 1,500 jobs. Phase 1 features buildings that cover 3.8 million square feet. Phase 1A (the northeastern portion of site) and Phase 2 (the southern portion) offers the capability for up to another 3.8 million square feet.

“Those plans are very fluid and high-level conceptual to allow for maximum flexibility depending on market demands” Sprenkle said.

“Our challenge when it comes down to Great Wolf Lodge and all the other things that are coming is how do we get that money to travel downtown?” Roath asked, also speculating about how a growing town is run.

The town’s budget runs $5 million to $5.5 million a year, with 45 to 50 employees, and 40% of the budget goes to police, he said.

During the interview, Roath also wondered out loud about how the town is led. “Can we really rely on volunteers to plan our future?”

Perryville’s 2021-23 strategic plan

• Attract and retain business.

• Increase residential development within town boundaries.

• Continue to invest in town infrastructure.

• Increase citizen involvement.

• Maintain a strong human and financial infrastructure.

• Encourage and support growth that benefits all residents.

A careful vision for Principio Business Park

Stewart Properties is going for long-range planning for the Principio Business Park and its adjacent landholdings east of Perryville and north of Charlestown. The very long range.

“We’re in no rush,” said Gary Stewart Jr., president of the family firm. “We want to do it right.”

The York, Pennsylvania, company began work on Principio in the mid-1990s. “It’s a career-long project for me,” he said. “We’re looking for what the market would want to see 30, 40, 50 years out.”

Phase 1 encompasses 1,200 acres with 7 million square feet of distribution, manufacturing and light industrial space. Major companies include Restoration Hardware, using 1.8 million square feet; Amazon and GE with 1 million each; and Lidl with 850,000.

The attractiveness of the location will grow in 2025 when a new interchange with Interstate 95 opens at Belvidere Road.

Part of the park lies on an area mined decades ago for sand and gravel, and Stewart is committed to properly reclaim the land, he said.

A Maryland Transportation Authority map shows the park in navy blue, north of Pulaski Highway. Stewart also owns land south of the highway (in light blue) and right up to I-95 (also light blue).

A graphic of “fun facts” for the project notes 8,300 to 10,600 jobs are generated by the Principio Business Park.

Stewart land at the new interchange might have typical highway businesses, like gas stations, but the company is also looking at all of its acreage as part of master plan that might include green space, potential residential and potential schools “and all the supporting institutions a community needs … for people to work, live and have fun.”

Stewart created a water system, which has been sold to Artesian Water, and the land is connected to the county sewer system.

He noted that plans are evolving for its holdings south of the Pulaski Highway, following community outreach.

“We have deep roots in the county,” he said, noting that his great-grandfather is buried here and his grandfather was born here. “We want to be good stewards and stakeholders.”

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