By the 1990s, many were ready to declare downtown Bel Air a complete loss. Harford Mall and surrounding chain stores had lured people away for years. Neighbors no longer gathered for shopping, eating and gossip along Main and Bond streets.
Carol Deibel, the Town of Bel Air’s Director of Planning and Community Development, instead saw promise. She believed Business Rt. 1 retail stores and a revitalized Bel Air historic downtown could thrive together.
“Carol was the first person who brought the then-new Maryland Main Street program to the Town’s attention,” says Trish Heidenreich, currently the Director of Economic Development. “She spearheaded years of work to get the Town of Bel Air to be one of the first places designated as a part of the Main Street Maryland program.”
Today, downtown Bel Air is a place where retail shops, professional offices, restaurants and arts venues combine to welcome a new generation.
During her 28-year career, Deibel managed scores of projects that are now part of Bel Air’s fabric. These include the transformation of Rockfield Park from a private farm to a place of gardens, recreation and open space; the establishment of what is now the Bel Air Downtown Alliance; a public parking garage that fits into the small-town footprint; the annexation of the land that became the Majors Choice neighborhood; the transformation of the Bel Air Armory into a community venue; and the establishment of the Bel Air Historic Preservation and Cultural Arts commissions.
Carol was a planning director in the days when women in those positions were a rarity. “Carol was a supervisor and a mentor. She empowered the women who worked for her to be the best they could be and really shine their talents,” says Heidenreich.
Deibel is also a go-to historian. Ask her a question about Harford County’s past and she shares stories in a heartbeat. She is the author of Bel Air Chronicles and the co-author of Legendary Locals of Bel Air. She writes regular features for Harford’s Heart Magazine about the county’s historical heritage. She remains active in the Historical Society of Harford County and is currently coordinating planning for Harford County’s 250th Anniversary.
With a unique leadership style, unfailing energy, a passion for historic preservation and a belief in the future, Carol Deibel led the way to a revitalized Bel Air that will endure for years.