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Havre de Grace council passes 2013 budget, hears concerns on mixed-use project involving new hospital

Plans are in the works to build what would be Harford County's tallest building, at seven stories, as part of a new hospital and medical center at I-95 in Havre de Grace. The new hospital complex was discussed at Monday's Havre de Grace City Council meeting. During the same meeting, the council passed a $12 million operating budget for 2013, with $700,000 less in the general fund than in the 2012 budget.

The city's real property tax rate will be slightly reduced to 58 cents per $100 of assessed value, from almost 59 cents.

The hospital complex promises to help with future budgets, according to at least one long-time Havre de Grace businessman and civic leader.

With the new health care complex would come more, high-paying jobs, according to Allen Fair.

The hospital will mean "well-paid people," who will want to live in Havre de Grace, Fair said at Monday night's public hearing..

"People don't realize the magnitude of what that hospital is going to do for Havre de Grace," he said.

A handful of Havre de Grace residents, who attended a public hearing about the planned new hospital Monday night, aren't opposed to the proposal for the Route 155/I-95 interchange near their neighborhood, but said they have some concerns about plans for the site. About a dozen residents and Upper Chesapeake Health representatives attended a City of Havre de Grace public hearing to express their hopes and concerns about the site proposed for the new hospital.

Several residents of the nearby Paddocks of Bulle Rock community said they are not completely opposed to the project, but are disappointed they had not been consulted on the proposed mixed-use employment center.

Proposed changes to the city's zoning ordinance to accommodate mixed use will result in changes to building setback and height requirements in particular.

Some residents expressed particular concern about the possibility of overly bright lighting around the planned new hospital, as well as other quality of life issues.

"We do not intend to stop the development of the hospital," Jim Barry, president of Paddocks homeowners association, said. "We're not going to come out with picket signs and fight it. We're pretty reasonable residents. We really want to make sure that the effort extended [Upper Chesapeake Health] is extended to us as well."

He added many of the rules addressing noise and lighting pollution, and buffers between different land uses, are too vague.

"You could drive a tractor trailer through them; they're almost useless the way they're written," he said.

Another resident, Rodney Gaston, said the ordinance only requires the development to have "minimal glare," and he asked for more objective criteria for measuring brightness.

"I have no idea what minimal glare means. How do we enforce that part of the ordinance?" he asked.

Gaston and some other neighbors on Monarchos Drive also have concerns about the potential of changing the nature of their community, such as the creation of a bike trail and the destruction of some natural habitats.

"Our development is a dead end street," he said. "We don't have sidewalks; we don't want sidewalks."

"It's hard enough dodging the traffic from our own neighbors than to have a stream of bicyclists coming into our neighborhood," Gaston added.

Lynn Jurkowski said she did not know about the proposed development when she moved to Havre de Grace. She, too, is concerned about its impact on the quality of life.

"We have a lot of animals, birds, things that are back there that are going to go away," she said, adding she is concerned about the minimal setbacks and having a business back up to her house.

"We moved to this town because we wanted to move to a small town with a small-town feel," she added.

"We have a residential community with a certain environmental flavor," Jurkowski continued. "We've had no involvement in this."

Representatives of Upper Chesapeake Health defended the project, pointing out the city is only at the first step in a comprehensive planning approval project. Upper Chesapeake plans to develop the new hospital as a replacement for Harford Memorial Hospital in the city's downtown.

Mike Nicolaus, of HKS Architects, said the new hospital will be "one of the most progressive health care environments in the country."

He said the office buildings and other structures planned would be as many as four stories tall, with the hospital potentially being seven stories, or 150 feet tall, which would make the hospital the tallest building in Harford County.

Lyle Sheldon, president and chief executive officer of Upper Chesapeake, noted he is a 25-year resident of Harford County and lives just outside Havre de Grace.

Sheldon said the ordinance reflects a collaborative effort, and the hospital has had "very constructive discussions, leading to many refinements being made."

Two tourism representatives also said they have concerns with the proposed 300-square-foot tourism space on the site.

William Watson, of the Tourism Advisory Board, said his group had a "cordial" meeting with Upper Chesapeake representatives, but found it "quite perplexing" that hospital officials thought the tourism group wanted to put the tourism site potentially inside the hospital site, in the place zoned for office use, instead of for retail.

He gave them assurances that tourism officials have no intention of building it in an office space.

Phil Hutson, of Elocutionist Way, has concerns about a helicopter pad, pointing out none would be allowed within 1,000 feet of a residence, which is still "pretty close."

Hutson said the pad could be closer to I-95.

He also urged the council to vote against the current ordinance and to consider the schedule, pointing out that the economy could keep the different phases from being built.

"I think we're moving too quickly on the schedule," he said.

Dino LaFiandra, a lawyer representing Upper Chesapeake, said the company would take the comments heard that night under consideration, and the hospital has had "constructive" dialogue with city staff.

"We are very confident that the zoning text amendment that you have before you is the minimum amount of amendment that's necessary for Upper Chesapeake to effect its vision for this medical campus," LaFiandra said.

Councilmen Bill Martin and Joe Smith said they were listening to residents' concerns and want to make sure the project is built right.

Smith, who was elected to the council last month, is a resident of Bulle Rock and said he knows many residents of the Paddocks.

2013 budget

The council passed the $12 million operating budget for 2013, with Martin pointing out very few changes were made to the proposed budget during the council's spring work sessions.

He did introduce an amendment, which the council approved, to keep from adding another full-time position to the economic development office.

The budget will still provide for an additional 20 hours a week in that department.

Councilman David Glenn said he agrees the economy does not allow for an additional position, but Councilman John Correri Jr. said he is still ambivalent about keeping the status quo there.

Smith and Councilwoman Barbara Wagner voted against the amendment.

Smith noted it is a "double-edged sword," with the need still there for the city to continue enhancing its economic development efforts.

Wagner said she is very much in favor of having a full-time position, as it would greatly enhance the work of the economic development department.

Martin said in general he is "very pleased" with the 2013 budget, as it cuts the tax rate and provides the same services to all citizens.

He said it received very limited modification during the two spring work sessions, and is the end result of Mayor Wayne Dougherty's push to reduce spending and the "hard work" of department heads.

Council reports

Council president Randy Craig was acting as mayor on behalf of Wayne Dougherty, who Craig explained was absent for "personal reasons" that were not serious or health-related.

Public works director Larry Parks said the much-contested work on Lewis Lane will be starting soon, in early July.

Police chief Teresa Walter noted Independence Day festivities are coming up, with the carnival happening June 26 and parade on July 1.

The chief also got a round of applause for being named Person of the Year by the city's Chamber of Commerce.

Councilman Joe Smith gave a "shout-out" to fathers, in recognition of Father's Day, and wished everyone "happy Pride," in reference to June being designated Gay Pride Month.

Councilwoman Barbara Wagner and Councilman David Glenn recalled the Homes for Our Troops construction project, which built a home last weekend for Army Staff Sgt. Kelly Keck.

Wagner said it was "amazing" to see his strength and have the community recognize his sacrifice.

Glenn said the ceremony Friday reinforced that the true heroes are the men and women of the armed forces.

"The war will never end for Kelly Keck because of the injuries he incurred fighting for us," Glenn said.

Martin wished everyone a happy July 4, and talked about meeting Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden at the Vandiver Inn.

"I hope America returns to its greatness and looks to the sky again," Martin said, adding he was sad to think children spent 40 or 50 years wanting to be an astronaut, but now have very little chance of going into space.

Fence saga

A request by Joseph Fiocci to allow a picket fence at 469 Commerce St. to stay in place was rejected by the council, with council members noting the fence was built after approval for it was denied.

An upset Fiocci demanded a re-vote, which Craig denied. Several residents also spoke in support of Fiocci and said the improvements have greatly helped the community.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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