Craig A. Ward, President/Principal, Frederick Ward Associates
Some people consider development a dirty word – the ruination of what we love about where we live. Others see it as synonymous with progress – a natural evolution of response to a community’s needs and desires. As with most things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Harford County has been in the throes of development for the past 50 years. It has changed from a sprawling rural community traveled through “up Route 1 on the way to Philly,” to a sought after destination spot for sports enthusiasts, naturalists, boaters and young families. Craig Ward is President and Principal at Frederick Ward Associates, a Bel Air firm providing architecture, engineering, planning and surveying services for clients. As a lifelong resident and business owner in Harford County, he has both witnessed and participated in much of the growth the county has experienced.
What’s Happened and How It’s Happened
“My father and his family moved up here from Appalachia in North Carolina when he was about 2 years old. Coming out of World War II, he took advantage of the GI Bill to attend University of Maryland. He was the first person in his family to go to college and graduated second in his class with a degree in civil engineering. Although he was an engineer by training, he loved doing land surveys,” says Ward. “He and a partner started the company in 1955 doing land surveys in the county.”
During the 1960s, Craig Ward’s Uncle Walter (cousin Bob Ward’s father) and a partner, Melvin Bosley, purchased farms around Harford County along what became Route 24. They then participated with the county in planning public water and sewer. A front-page story on Aug. 3, 1961 in “The Aegis” reports that Harford County received its master plan for providing public water and sewerage facilities, estimating it would cost $37.5 million at completion and based on a projected 280,000 people living in Harford County in the year 2000. (Current Census data estimates a 252,000 population in 2014). Over time, those farms became Howard Park, Edgewood Meadows, Box Hill South, Glenwood Country Club Park, West Riding, Bel Air South, and the Festival at Bel Air. Frederick Ward did most of the land surveying for those projects. “Back in those days, to put up a subdivision, all you had to do was draw the plats and record them at the courthouse. That’s it. That doesn’t happen today,” he chuckles.
As the county grew, so did Frederick Ward and Associates, adding employees and services as the needs arose. The addition of municipal engineering coincided with the housing developments and the expansion of public utilities in the 1960s. Architecture, landscape architecture and environmental planning were added in the 1980s, and the integration of GPS technology followed in the ’90s.
“Because of the kind of work we do, we’ve participated in the growth of the institutional infrastructure – the school system, the hospital, the college as well the commercial and residential sectors in Harford County. We’ve been part of the growing process and have influenced the decisions that have allowed the county to develop.”
Making the Tough Decisions
Ward contends that the design industry is vital to the responsible development of a community.
“We have to be part of the political process. We have to help make the tough decisions so that growth occurs the way we want it to. We have a challenge in Annapolis. Mike Busch (Maryland Speaker of the House) made no bones that the money raised from any pending tax increases would only be directed at the jurisdictions that supported it. If our delegation doesn’t vote for them, we will not see our share of the revenues or the improvements from those revenues, and we desperately need them. Our highway system, specifically about six intersections that provide or move traffic from APG as well as Route 22 are desperately in need of improvement. They are big, big problems, and if we don’t get our share [of revenues] those problems aren’t going to be fixed.”
Harford County’s delegation has made it clear that they are unanimously against approving any new taxes. “I’m not in favor of paying more taxes either, but I am in favor of doing what I have to do to help this community evolve and to address the challenges and problems that we have. It’s a tough balancing act and that balancing act becomes more and more difficult the more mature and the more diverse our community becomes.”
Diversity has been an ongoing struggle within Harford County’s borders. Trying to balance the appeal of the farming community and surrounding natural habitats – the very thing that drew many new residents to the area – with the demands of that same growth have not been easy. “I don’t know that there is a consensus on what Harford County is,” contemplates Ward. “Our acceptance of being a full member of the Baltimore metropolitan area, a transition from being aligned to the more rural communities in Maryland, is not evolving quickly. There’s conflict between the fact that we are a growing and diversifying area in our core areas, what they call the development envelope, and the preservation of our rural northern part of the county. There seem to be some folks who think we have to focus on one or the other and that the growth within the envelope is negative to our rural areas. I just don’t see it that way. I think we can have both and should have both. We ought to have as strong as a rural preservation programs as we can, and at the same time I think we ought to be very smart about encouraging the right kind of growth and development in the right locations within the development envelope.”
Ward believes that the county leadership – both elected officials as well as private businesses and institutional leaders – need to evolve to bring all sides together. “Look at HCC (Harford Community College) and UCHS (Upper Chesapeake Health) leadership, for example. They’ve evolved from a proprietary point of view and have expanded in both size and sophistication to meet the needs of the County today. That kind of proactive and broader thinking is evolving, but has a long way to go.”
How He Stays Connected to the Conversation
By participating in the public dialogue, being part of the political process and being an active community resident, Ward stays connected to the people and the issues who are having the important conversations. He has a passion for community development and planning and wants to help maintain the balance that he and most residents desire. He has served on numerous appointed commissions and task forces for the county government. He is a member of the Greater Harford Committee, a group of approximately 50 local businesses that discusses development issues and prepares positions to deliver to our county leaders. He was a third-year dancer for the Center for the Arts’ annual Dancing for the Arts fundraiser and is currently serving on the board of the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation.
Three recent jobs have put Ward in the center of some major conversations relating to growth in Harford County.
His firm completed the site engineering for the new Cancer Center on the Bel Air campus of Upper Chesapeake Health. In preparation for the Center, Route 24 needed improvements to accommodate traffic and maintain public safety. Route 24, however, is a denied access state highway. “It took five years of diligent work from a lot of people to break the denial of access to get approval,” he says. “Those decisions had to be made at the highest level.” Hoping to bring up to 2,000 seasonal jobs as well as year-round regular staff is the new Kohl’s fulfillment and distribution center in Edgewood. “My firm did the architectural and engineering plans for the original 600,000-square-foot GAP warehouse in 1990. Now we are engineering the addition of 400,000 square feet for Kohl’s. It will handle all the order fulfillment for the East Coast from their website, kohls.com.”
And most recently and possibly most visibly, Ward completed the Boulevard at Box Hill, a project developed by his cousin Bob Ward. “We handled the site engineering, the landscape architecture, and the site planning for the Wegmans, the two restaurants, the coming JCPenney, and the additional retail that will fill out the center.”
What would he like to see in Harford County? “Real incentives for quality growth and development in the Route 40 corridor. Our plans and vision all point to this as a goal but we lack true strategy to make it happen. Too often discussion about growth is all about what we don’t want. Here, we know what we do want, we just need to dovetail true public incentives with private investment to help make it a reality.”