A personal account by Jay Winer
After 20 years of growth, one million square feet of a manufacturing facility constructed in Odenton at National Plastic Products Company and land purchased at Piney Orchard to house future employees, the Winer family was faced with a tough decision; grow or sell.
My father and uncles were used to knowing every employee, often just by first name. They operated hands-on with each brother handling a different division. My father, Albert was in charge of manufacturing. Hands on meant physically turning lights off after work to save on energy costs. But they had grown so rapidly, they were advised to “go public” to fuel more growth. They did not want to lose the family feel to their business, so in 1961 they took the opportunity and sold the plants to a joint venture of Humble Oil (now EXXON) and JP Stevens Co.
The family did not leave manufacturing after sale of the “plant”, but rather located a new facility called National Industries on land they had acquired on Telegraph Road only a mile or so north of the plant. They produced kitchen and institutional cabinetry made with Nevamar laminate. I had my first real job there as a teenager, burning waste wood material in an incinerator during the summer. Along with singed hair on my arms, I gained a whole lot of experience!
In 1971, National Industries was sold and the family left manufacturing altogether. A few brothers from the original founders had passed and some were ready to retire. I was two years out of college with a degree in marketing and economics and the family enlisted me to begin working on managing, selling and developing much of the land they had acquired, including Piney Orchard. Truth be told, I don’t think other family members of my age at the time, had any interest in pursuing more of the family business. The Piney Orchard property was large enough, but the family had also acquired over 300 acres of other properties in and around Odenton. So, I set about to learn about the county in which these holdings were located.
In 1964, Anne Arundel County transitioned from representation by county commissioners to county council districts. In 1968, the county adopted its first General Development Plan to guide land use for the “foreseeable” future. West Anne Arundel County, including Odenton, was targeted as a major employment, commercial and housing center. It was the first time Odenton was proposed as a town center. After two more years of preparation by land planners, in 1971 the county published its forward looking “Odenton 1990” plan! Piney Orchard was also included as a major housing and employment area. Because utilities were not available for Piney Orchard, it was zoned “deferred development”. Any future development would have to wait until adequate water and sewer capacity were available. That was not all. At least one elementary school and road connections would be required as well. It was a tall order and one that would take another eighteen years to fill.
So began planning for the ultimate development of Piney Orchard. We brought in professional planners and engineers to begin a vision for the property’s development. We always used the “live, work and play” model as our guiding principle. We teamed up with Barton Mitchell of E Stewart Mitchell Asphalt Co, who owned 500 acres of property along the Patuxent River. Though most was floodplain, it was important to include for open space and environmental protection. We also teamed up with another neighbor, the Robey family, who operated a school bus company and farmed their 200 acres adjoining Piney Orchard. They raised strawberries and were a neighborhood favorite for “picking your own” every spring. Their property would later be separated from the group and developed independently. For those living on or near Strawberry Lake Way in Piney Orchard, this was part of how it got its name. The lake was planned to be built near the Patuxent as a major amenity, but the Army Corps of Engineers nixed the idea. We would have called it Strawberry Lake!
Many years were invested to study and engineer the property for development. In order to make Piney Orchard a reality, we were going to have to come up with how to connect Waugh Chapel Road and Telegraph Road to the property. Today, it’s fun to drive these roads knowing I sat with our engineers and land planners years ago and drew the alignments for these roads on the back of a napkin.
Because Anne Arundel County had not increased the capacity of its public sewer system since zoning the property years before, we also set about to investigate, design and gain approvals from the County and State to build our own wastewater treatment facility. That costly process took five years to accomplish.
Along the way, we also decided to forgo the mining of more than a million cubic yards of valuable gravel buried under much of Piney Orchard. We would have had to flatten the landscape that today allows for hills and valleys and more natural drainage that help make the community more “livable’.
All the while, we talked to the community at every conceivable opportunity to allay their fears and discuss how and why the development would benefit the entire area. It wasn’t enough to be part of an approved zoning plan. In order to develop Piney Orchard, we would need to prove all the work on utilities, roads and schools would be adequate. This included a commitment to fund the construction of the Piney Orchard elementary school. I can remember taking our application to the county just to allow us the opportunity to begin serious engineering. The application, plans and supporting material took five file boxes. We delivered it to Annapolis with a dozen colorful balloons attached for effect!
Later, we teamed up with and formed a joint development company with Constellation Companies, then a division of BGE. My family always believed that a company with the capacity to invest in all the work we had planned for years would be critical. As we all know, economic conditions can change and knowing Piney Orchard would take 15 years or so to build out meant that the financing for a successful project could not be interrupted. The property was then sold to this new venture that went on to build the major infrastructure that serves the community today.
Irony of all ironies, my son and daughter -in-law, as well as my two grandsons now live quite happily in Piney Orchard. I really get quite a bit of joy driving through Piney Orchard to see everyone enjoying the recreational amenities, trails, shopping and their own neighborhoods. After all that time, Piney Orchard lived up to its promise as a place to live, work and play!