The vision behind Summerfield
By Bob Lassahn
This is the first of two articles by The Courier regarding a proposed development called Summerfield based upon an interview with developer Mark Odachowski.
By this time virtually anyone living in Worcester County should be somewhat familiar with the name Summerfield. The magnitude of this proposed development adjacent to the present town of Snow Hill instantly grabs the attention. A total of 2,170 homes and supporting businesses is something that simply cannot be ignored. Intended for annexation to the town of Snow Hill the project stands to significantly increase the geographic size of the town and could nearly triple the existing population of 2,400 residents.
The Courier was fortunate to gain insight into the background and scope of the project from the source most intimately acquainted with Summerfield. Mark Odachowski, the man who envisioned and facilitated planning for a project that he affectionately refers to as “writing history” in Worcester County and possibly for the entire Eastern Shore.
Understanding how Summerfield was envisioned would not be possible without some commentary about Mr. Odachowski. Best known as the man behind Royal Plus Electric, which he proudly describes as the fourth largest employer in Worcester County, he does not seem to fit the popular image of a corporate guru who would be the driving force behind an undertaking of this magnitude. Shunning crisp business attire in favor of shorts, t-shirt and work boots his self described attitude, somewhat paraphrased here is, “I still have my tool belt and if getting the job done means I have to get down into the trench, I do that.” This has been reinforced by comments from those who have been customers of his company. Mr. Odachowski is young, 35 years old, and he incorporated his business in 1988 at the age of 18. A former native of Baltimore and the son of two schoolteachers, he refers to himself as a simple person but one who is driven.
As Mr. Odachowski speaks about Summerfield it is impossible not to sense his passion for the project and he explains how that passion grew from a longstanding admiration for the history and unique architecture of the town of Snow Hill. His interest led him to look at investments in the town and to begin to attend meetings there. In the year 2000 the town began revising their comprehensive plan and exploring ways to revitalize the community after a period of decline.
Mr. Odachowski points out that Snow Hill has struggled with many of the same problems experienced by small towns across America such as residents moving away due to lack of job opportunities, a loss of businesses when unable to sustain themselves and a myriad of other issues. Among these were also a sewer plant that was polluting the scenic Pocomoke River and the lack of a redundant (backup) water supply for the population. There was no easy answer to addressing the aging infrastructure based upon the limited number of residents to finance the necessary improvements.
In 2003 the town and the county reached the conclusion that land development could resolve some of these issues and fix problems with the infrastructure. They also approved the area where growth should occur based upon the existing natural and man made limitations surrounding the town. The area is exactly where Summerfield is now being proposed. In facing these issues and focusing on potential growth areas the town has essentially been preparing itself for growth over the last six years.
Mr. Odachowski explains as he became aware of the plans he began looking at what could be done to facilitate the growth the town sought and if he might become a conduit to make it happen. About 18 parcels were included in the target area but none were currently on the market so he started knocking on doors and making offers. The first successful purchase was a farm with a historic house called Summerfield dating back to the Civil War era. Historic preservationists take heart. The original Summerfield house is slated for restoration and potentially will serve as a museum.
As the parcels were being accumulated and the vision of a large scale project developed, Mr. Odachowski established a firm belief that it should incorporate a design that was compatible with and accentuated the historic charm of the town. In February 2005 Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, an architectural and town planning firm well known to all involved in the land planning process, conducted a week long planning charrette financed by Mr. Odachowski to formulate the elements of a master planned community. The planning sessions involved townspeople, town and county officials, public works agencies, builders, architects and developers brainstorming ideas to create a project of the highest possible quality. The town has been intimately involved in the entire design process.
Mr. Odachowski relates that conservation was not ignored in the planning. Although the parcels along the Pocomoke River held potential as the most valuable land for high priced homes a decision was made to preserve the area. About 150 acres bordering the river will remain unspoiled and have been donated to a nature conservancy. An educational nature center is envisioned as part of the project. The planned community will also include a total of 40 percent open space and existing ditches will be improved with various holding ponds and canals to limit pollutants flowing into the river. The canals will meander through the community and many will be navigable by paddleboat, kayak and canoe.
What are the potential benefits to the town of Snow Hill? The list Mr. Odachowski can roll off is pretty impressive. Bringing the town businesses that are self sustaining: at present the citizens of Snow Hill must often drive to either Pocomoke City or Salisbury for shopping, but an expanded customer base could make businesses viable. Health care: Atlantic General Hospital has provided a letter of intent to bring a new facility to the town. Improved infrastructure: Mr. Odachowski has committed to replace the existing sewerage treatment plant, at his expense, with a modern, efficient facility that will reduce pollutants to about one half their current levels. A broader tax base and some economy of scale: currently Snow Hill has one of the highest tax rates in the state and each new Summerfield home stands to bring additional tax income to the town, potentially influencing a downward trend in the individual tax rate. To help the town in managing the growth Mr. Odachowski has provided more than $500,000 for a town planner position over the next five years.
What are the potential benefits to the county? For starters there is the reduction of pollutants flowing into the river. The project will also provide employment for the construction trades, a significant part of the county’s economy, over the next 14 to 25 years. Beyond these the county stands to benefit in the effort to control and direct growth to the proper areas.
The county’s planning director, Sandy Coyman, has stated that Worcester County strives to keep new development concentrated around existing towns under its proposed comprehensive plan. Targeted are larger parcels of 100 acres or more located near existing roadways, offering employment, retail and essential services and that are served by public sewer. Summerfield fits neatly into the county plan. Mr. Odachowski has also advised that a population increase of about 18,000 people is predicted in Worcester County over the next 20 years and to handle this growth, the county would need about 7,700 new housing units. Summerfield could fulfill about one quarter of that projected housing need. Included in the project is sorely needed “affordable” housing for working professionals such as teachers, police officers and others who might be priced out of the current housing market.
Mr. Odachowski faces one of the final and most important hurdles in the Summerfield project this November when the citizens of Snow Hill decide on the question of annexation. He expresses confidence that they will decide in favor of annexation, but apparently has no intention of resting until that actually happens. In his impressive arsenal of tools to sell the project is a computer generated virtual tour of the proposed community and an inventory of potential benefits to all that is obviously committed to his memory.
His unabashed enthusiasm is contagious. It is almost impossible not to be influenced when he launches into his dissertation and his passion to make Summerfield happen is obvious. He readily admits he stands to make money, but Mr. Odachowski says Summerfield is “not necessarily about the dollar.” He says he could do that in numerous other ways that would be simpler in their execution. Sometimes it is also about “making things happen” and taking pride in what is being accomplished.
Mr. Odachowski admits there are some individuals who might not share his passion or his positive views regarding Summerfield but he has difficulty in understanding their objections. He says he always welcomes the opportunity to tell anyone about Summerfield and to call 410-632-LIVE to learn more. Some preliminary information and artist’s renderings are also available on the Summerfield website at www.summerfieldmd.com
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