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Q&A: PHIA President Talks Perry Hall's Strengths, Challenges

Dennis M. Robinson, Jr. became president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association in 2010.

Approaching his third year as president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association, has a hard time visiting local businesses without seeing a familiar face. 

"It's an inside joke between me and my son. We're in the car and he says, 'OK, Dad, who are we going to see? You know it's going to be somebody.' It's a game when we're walking around the grocery store. Almost inevitably, we see someone we know around Perry Hall," Robinson said.

Robinson, a married 37-year-old father of two, has lived in Perry Hall since 2004. He works as an attorney and partner at WhitefordLLP. 

Robinson took the PHIA's reins in April 2010, shortly after then-president David Marks officially began his successful run to represent District 5 in the Baltimore County Council. 

Without opposition, the PHIA's board recently reelected Robinson to lead the organization into 2013. 

Patch spoke with Robinson about his thoughts on the community and opportunities for involvement. 

The following interview was edited for length and content. 

What are the biggest challenges facing Perry Hall? 

We have endured a lot of growth and change over last ten years—the major issues are always going to be with more homes and more people. 

I think Perry Hall's biggest challenge is dealing with inevitable growth while maintaining our sense of community. We have a lot of longtime residents who reminisce about how Perry Hall was in the past, which is a wonderful thing, but we also have a lot of newer residents who don't have that same reference point in the past. I don't think that dynamic is negative—in fact, I think it's healthy for a community to maintain connections to its past while still looking forward, but that's still going to be a challenge.

There's going to be growth and there's going to be change. There's really nothing we can do to prevent that from happening, but I think being able to maintain that sense of community that is present in Perry Hall remains one of those challenges.

Along with those issues is overcrowding in schools, public safety and building and maintaining various forms of infrastructure needed to support the community.

Also, for better or for worse, Patch has caused us to become laser-focused on local issues. Sometimes it magnifies issues like crime. I know we don't live in Mayberry, but Perry Hall is still one of the safest communities in Baltimore County. 

What are the best reasons to live in Perry Hall? 

Strong neighborhoods, excellent schools, active churches, successful local businesses, great parks, natural resources, access to highways, proximity to many different employment opportunities—and not having to travel more than a quarter-mile to get to the next pharmacy. What more would anyone want in a community? All joking aside, my family does not live here because we have to. If I didn't think Perry Hall was a great place to live, I would live elsewhere. I don't think I could give it more of a ringing endorsement than that. 

What are Perry Hall's most underused resources and benefits? What are residents not taking advantage of enough?

One thing that I think gets underutilized is the Gunpowder Falls State Park here on Belair Road, and if you go a little bit farther up, Jerusalem Mill. These are incredible natural resources that we have for hiking, fishing or even just relaxing. We also have a lot of parks and recreational activities that I think more people should be aware of and try to take advantage of. 

Another thing we have, in the same vein as parks and recreational activities, are local business establishments. I always love walking into local businesses and seeing someone that I know. Whether it's Cannella's, Bill's Seafood, Gunpowder Lodge, the Y or Rita's. We can't go to these places without seeing someone I know. 

Why should more people get involved in PHIA?

People should join it and get involved because we have strength in numbers. When I'm advocating for the community with state legislators and the County Council or government agencies, it helps when they know how many people we represent. Government agencies know they can't ignore the PHIA because it is such a strong organization and it has such a strong membership.

There's a lot of ways people can get involved. I see the entire gamut. There are people who serve as an extra set of eyes and ears and notice problems, such as roads and disrepair and trash in the streets and cars speeding through residential areas—just to name a few examples. And I receive updates from them on these issues on a regular basis and I forward these concerns to the appropriate government agencies in most cases, if it's an issue the government agency is supposed to address, they take care of it.

Another way to get involved is to help the PHIA plan an event like the Bunny Breakfast or the Apple Festival, which are some of our recent additions, but I think they've been really successful. These things don't happen by accident. I'm fortunate enough to have people on the board who are very energetic and driven and well organized and want to plan events like this, but we can't do it on our own.

We're also looking for people to get involved in the service project aspect. We recognize events aren't for everybody, service isn't for everybody and advocacy isn't for everybody, and that's why we have many different aspects of the PHIA and ways in which people can get involved. Some of the service activities include tree maintenance and clean-up near the Perry Hall signs and cleaning up the stretch of Honeygo Boulevard that we've adopted.

If all somebody is willing to do is complain and suggest what they think someone else should be doing, then I don't think they're being a productive member of our community. There are key differences between talking about what can be done to ensure that our community remains a place we're proud to call home and people who actually take action.

I have had the pleasure of working with many volunteers around the Perry Hall community, and these are people who take time away from their families, their friends, their jobs and their hobbies to enhance their community. These are people who take time to contribute in a lot of different meaningful ways and it's easy to sit back and say, "I'm too busy, I can't do anything to help," but we're all busy. Most of us have professional responsibilities and families and other outside interests that we're pursuing. It's not a difference between who has time and who doesn't have time—it's a difference between who makes time and who doesn't make time for the community.

How can residents get involved in the PHIA?

Email the PHIA at perryhall@gmail.com, attend meetings on second Thursday of each month. They can approach me or others about ways to get involved. The enthusiasm on the board is contagious. 

How much longer do you expect to serve as president?

I'm certainly not trying to break any records. With all of his years added up, I think David did about 10 years here. I don't expect to even do half that. It's not that I don't like being involved. It's that I think it's healthy to have succession plans in place to allow other people to take on leadership roles and for people who have been in leadership roles to eventually step aside from that position. In all honesty, I am not planning on being president for more than another year.

Would you consider going into local politics after serving as president? 

I have absolutely no current plans to do that. I like spending time with family and friends and I'm in a very good place professionally right now. Besides, I think I would only last one term anyway, because I would focus every day on doing what's right for the community I represent and not be fixated on getting reelected. 

NottinghamFamily January 22, 2013 at 10:58 AM
Nice interview and a balanced perspective on the area and its changes over the years.
David Marks January 22, 2013 at 12:41 PM
The Perry Hall Improvement Association continues to play a critical role in our community. I would like to thank Dennis Robinson and all of the PHIA volunteers for their hard work. It is an honor to partner with them.
Bill Paulshock January 22, 2013 at 02:28 PM
Dennis , well said, and thank you PHIA for all you do for Perry Hall . It 's why Perry Hall continues to be a great place to live. Thank you again Dennie Bill Paulshock

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