After more than a decade a planning and community turmoil, Fallston's Aumar Village is finally coming to life.
The shopping center at the corner of Routes 1 and 152 is gradually taking shape after years of community opposition, litigation and zoning issues.
With construction for a CVS Pharmacy, APG Federal Credit Union and Texas Roadhouse restaurant under way, developer Mike Euler is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"I'm very proud of what's going on here," Euler said last Wednesday as he conducted a tour at the shopping center's site.
A Fallston resident himself, Euler says the retail site will be useful for the community and provide businesses that everyone, including his own family, will find beneficial.
At the moment, Aumar Village just looks like aMcDonald'swith a brick facade surrounded by mounds of dirt. To see the whole picture, though, one has to imagine thousands of bushes around the main entrance, a winding road leading to the heart of the center, lined by tulip light posts, eco-friendly initiatives and businesses that will serve a community that will no longer need to travel one town over to do their errands.
That's Euler's vision for the commercial area that he and his partner, the late Joseph Deigert, who died in 2004, dreamed up more than a decade ago.
The business partners were taken by the idea of a village-type shopping experience that catered to Fallston's needs and aesthetics, different from the nearby strip malls and the commercial mishmash that dominated the rest of the Route 1 corridor from the Baltimore County line to Bel Air for decades.
"The community has been skeptical as to what we do here," Euler said.
Selling residents on the what they wanted to accomplish proved to be harder than expected for the developers, who named their project in honor of the property's former longtime owners, the late August Rogan and his wife Marie, thus: Au-Mar Village.
During community input meetings in 2008 and 2009, residents came out in droves to ask questions about traffic congestion at an already busy intersection and problems an additional traffic light would cause.
After several traffic studies, it was determined that the entrances and exits on Route 1 will be right in, right out and left in.
On Route 152, it is a right in, right out entrance and exit with a "Maryland T" near the bank, which will be similar to what is at the Bel Air Bypass at Route 24 near Harford Mall.
Euler says a traffic light most likely won't be needed since the light at Harford Road should give enough of an interruption in traffic to allow drivers to enter and exit the shopping center safely.
The shopping center, he believes, will also ease traffic going into Bel Air or Abingdon, where many residents go to do regular errands.
Before the shopping center was proposed, in the late 1990s, Euler and Mr. Deigert proposed a 300-unit senior housing community and commercial area for the site. The community was opposed to this idea, partly because of traffic concerns.
In 2003, it was then proposed to use the B-3-zoned area of the property for as similar shopping center, and got as far as the Development Advisory Committee review process.
During that time, the business partners were in litigation, sparked from a zoning appeals process over the number of parking spaces permitted on the adjoining agricultural property.
The project was postponed until the litigation was resolved.
Then there was the issue of extending the water and sewer lines beyond the development envelope in Fallston.
In June 2007, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that deals for sewer service Euler made with two former county executives were not valid. Because of this decision, public water and sewer service couldn't be extended to property on Harford Road that Euler owned and couldn't be developed as much as the developer hoped.
In April 2011, however, the Harford County Council voted to extend sanitary service to parts of the community's commercial district, which included the south end of the Aumar Village site.
"Our own rule is that we wanted to get a little more green," Euler said of the site plan that ultimately evolved for the project.
The developer said he intends go above and beyond as far as landscaping, and would add even more bushes, trees and shrubs if the community likes what it sees and asks for more green.
To water all of that landscaping, Euler said Aumar Village will use groundwater recharge to maintain the site, which is a system that catches rainwater similar to that of a rain barrel, but on a much larger scale and hidden from public view.
Euler said he also purposely preserved a maple tree and its surrounding area on the corner of Routes 1 and 152, as community organizations has requested.
Stormwater management on the site will also be hidden from view, condensed under a parking area to make better use of the land.
Even the parking lots will be filtered with trees, Euler continued.
"People don't want a sea of parking, a sea of blacktops," he said. "They're going to like what they see here,"
To blend in with the nearby brick buildings, CVS and the credit union will be brick, as well.
Taking a cue from community input, Euler said he also made the McDonald's with a brick front rather than the traditional stucco, then went one step further and faced the fast-food restaurant away from the houses on Route 152.
First for Harford
The recently announced Texas Roadhouse steakhouse, a first for Harford County, won't be brick, Euler said, but it will have an attractive wood and Wild West theme in its facade.
The restaurant, he added, will have a glass window near the entrance where patrons can pick out the exact steak they want to their meal and have it cooked to their specifications.
"It's going to be a fun one," he said of the restaurant.
While the shopping center is coming together, Euler is still hoping to snag a top-tier grocery store to fill a more than 61,000-square-foot space in the center of the site.
To appeal to grocery chains, the developer's company set up a camera to show traffic at the intersection of Routes 152 and 1 at 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday in the past month. The video showed what, according to Euler, a grocery chain looks for when picking a locale — flowing traffic and lots of it.
Even though the grocery store space remains to be filled, Euler is hopeful that with time and effort, he'll be able to reel in the kind of business he feels will fit in perfectly with Aumar village.
"I think their [the community] fears are going to subside when they see this," he said of the completed Aumar Village.