Kettering community activist Phil Lee said it’s hard to run a group without a permanent and publicized public meeting space.
“It’s like having a government, but no county seat,” Lee said.
But Lee — executive director of the Kettering Civic Federation, a coalition of eight homeowners associations, which represents around 11,000 residents — said he has a solution in the works. He wants to renovate a property owned by the Olde Mill Foundation, of which Lee is also executive director, and make it into a learning center for teens and a permanent home for the region’s various community groups.
Lee said the brick building, located on West Branch Drive in Kettering, is in good structural shape but needs renovations such as new light fixtures and a heating and air-conditioning system.
“We need to change the doors and windows, along with the lighting fixtures and put in some bathrooms, too,” Lee said. “But it’s a three-and-a-half-acre lot with a huge parking lot, so it gives us room to grow in the future.”
Lee said the renovations likely will cost about $50,000, which will be funded by a $25,000 grant approved earlier this year by the state of Maryland along with private donations. Lee hopes to have the building up and running by March 2013.
Deborah Spencer, president of the KCF, said although there are spaces where community groups can meet — such as libraries and hotel conference rooms — without a standardized meeting place and time each month, it is difficult to run a group as well as adequately represent the community’s needs.
“Every month, if you don’t know exactly where you’re going to meet, the homeowners don’t know where to go,” Spencer said. “They can’t keep up with the HOA because it’s a moving target.”
Spencer said the conditions facing Kettering community groups lower attendance, which particularly causes problems when groups have their elections for new officers, which often have to be delayed multiple times to make sure residents know when and where to go.
“It’s the homeowners who really suffer,” Spencer said. “They want things done to maintain the upkeep for the community and it’s difficult for us to keep them abreast of what’s happening.”
Angela Brock, president of the Towns of Kettering Homeowners Association, which represents about 770 homeowners, said that in the 1990s her group was able to reliably meet at Largo High School, which was across U.S. 202 from their development, but has seen attendance drop, from around 50 members to around 15, since being forced to rent a conference room at the Holiday Inn Express on McCormick Drive in Largo.
“Now that we have to go all the way out to the hotel, we don’t get the turnout that we used to,” Brock said. “Even though we’ve been [at the hotel] for several years, we don’t have the stability.”
Lee said he often allows groups to meet at his temporary office space, donated by the Kettering/Largo Shopping Center on Campus Way South, but even that location is a stop-gap measure.
“[Property owners] Carlton Enterprises donate $12,000 to $15,000 per month in free rent now,” Lee said. “But I’m sure if a business came along and was willing to pay for the space, we’d have to relocate.”