The Harford County Council continued sifting through the proposed 2012 master plan last week, approving amendments that would set aesthetic guidelines for commercial projects, encourage redevelopment and protect specific watersheds, among other issues.

At their meeting Feb. 21, the council members also added amendments to address the issue of "substantial" truck traffic in the Dublin-Darlington community area and upgrade the Hickory crossroads of Routes 1, 23 and 543 from a "neighborhood center" to a "community center" because it has grown into a significant retail and commercial area.

Council President Billy Boniface supported that change, saying Route 543 and the Bel Air Bypass "is quickly becoming a large retail center... [where] people from northern Harford County come to shop."

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti also introduced six amendments, all of which were approved, that mentioned the need for additional recreational opportunities in the Bush River area, added a strategic growth plan created by the Forest Greens and Perryman Community Association, maintained the expanding development between Havre de Grace and Aberdeen and dealt with the Havre de Grace-Aberdeen community planning area, especially around I-95 in Havre de Grace.

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"This interchange is planned to undergo some major changes," Lisanti said, mentioning the ongoing plans by Upper Chesapeake Health to build a campus there.

Boniface suggested holding two amendments about developing limits on noise and visual pollution and protecting ecosystems in natural resource districts by forbidding "major disturbances" like stormwater management facilities, sewage pumping stations and nonessential roads.

Planning and zoning director Pete Gutwald noted Harford has one of the strictest NRDs in the state.

"Giving flexibility to allow some of these things that will improve the amenities to the development process could actually have greater impacts to the environment as well," he said.

An amendment to evaluate alternatives to septic for wastewater treatment in the Churchville-Creswell area also got support from Boniface.

"We'll have to start thinking out of the box and I think it's important we recognize that," he said.

Councilman Jim McMahan told Gutwald the creation of design standards for "big box retail centers," to make them complement the existing community, is an important amendment.

"We really need to look at this in the future, really make it look not like a box," McMahan said.

Councilman Joe Woods continued to discuss how to address the property plans for the Center for the Arts in Abingdon in the master plan.

One proposed amendment would kill a paragraph describing the proposed property, calling it "an educational/cultural 'downtown' area for the Abingdon-Emmorton Community Area" and encouraging access to the site be from Tollgate Road, with a natural buffer to Route 24.

Councilman Dick Slutzky said: "I'm not sure I understand the benefit for doing this, unless this is codified... It's just a suggestion, a guidance, but there are [memorandums of understanding] that exist that provide us a certain amount of risk in accepting this amendment."

"I don't want to discuss those risks now because I don't want to make that an obvious public statement, but my council members have been part of that conversation," Slutzky said.

Woods said he is not sure how many people have seen the MOU "or understand the true intent of what that property would be used for."

"It seems this just has the council signing a master plan without knowing all the viewpoints," he said. "That causes me a lot of concern."

Councilman Dion Guthrie said he agreed with Woods.

"I don't know if we could hold this off …so we could get some more information," Guthrie said, using the opportunity to also criticize the arts center in general, which is estimated to cost upward of $60 million.