The proposal to shrink the current Residential-Office zone on Union Avenue in Havre de Grace to a one-block perimeter around the current hospital will substantially and adversely impact downtown's business health, as well as effect the property value of many small medical businesses along Union Avenue.
My office is at 323 S. Union Ave. in Havre de Grace, on the block between Girard and Fountain streets. It is zoned Residential-Office, as is the entire surrounding area and most of Union Avenue. The city's Draft Zoning Ordinance would change everything North of Girard Street from RO to a new Residential designation. This would effectively cause the value of my property, and that of many of my neighbors, to plummet. Further, by effectively discouraging successor businesses from being established in offices like mine, the zoning change would adversely impact the economic health of our downtown Main Street corridor.
I will illustrate with the specifics of my own building, but please understand that many others will be affected similarly, both north and south of the hospital. Regarding the effect on property values — my building is currently assessed at $316,700 and I pay taxes to Havre de Grace and Harford County based on this assessment. Mine is a cinder block one story building, as is the office of my next door neighbor (the former Union Medical Building, now occupied by Dr. McDermott), and as is the Eye Center on Girard Street, about 20 feet from my back door and sharing my parking lot. All are active businesses.
None of these buildings is suitable for residential use. Thus, under the proposed zoning change, my building can remain a medical building (under the non-conforming use section of the new zoning code) but cannot be utilized for any other purpose except as a residence. Anyone wanting to live here would most likely have to demolish the building and rebuild. Thus the real value of my property, if it is rezoned as Residential, is the value of the lot minus the demolition costs. My estimate is that this proposed zoning change would effectively reduce the value of my own property by $200,000 to $250,000. My neighbors will all be likewise affected.
Regarding the impact on other downtown businesses, it is important to recognize how much business volume the downtown medical community drives into our other local establishments — my dermatology practice, for example, employs 11 people, all of whom shop and dine regularly in town.
More importantly, about 8,000 office visits, often by patients with spouses and children in tow, occur in our office every year. These are people from all over Harford and Cecil counties and beyond. I am often asked: "This is such a lovely town. What do you recommend we do here; where should we eat?"
As with many local medical practices, our patients go on to patronize the other downtown businesses after they see their doctors. If these medical practices should all move, say, up the hill to a new medical campus, it is unlikely that patients will go downtown at the current rate, if at all. At both the OPAC and Bulle Rocke Candidate Night forums this past year, there was much talk about increasing the size of the economic development office in order to increase downtown business. If building up and revitalizing our downtown is one of our priorities as a city, this Union Avenue zoning change is not the way to do it.
I speak here for the medical community but it should be noted that there are financial services, restaurants, real estate, bank, and other commercial businesses also thriving and adding to the city tax base, right here on Union Avenue. People like coming to Havre de Grace to patronize these establishments. It is part of what gives Havre de Grace its charm. Though Harford Memorial Hospital will at some point relocate up to the interchange, we don't know what will eventually happen with the current facility. Whatever it ends up being may affect the types of businesses that we would like to see evolve nearby. Changing the zoning on Union Ave from RO to Residential is of no benefit to the city or it's citizens, and it certainly cuts the legs out from under a section of our business community. I urge the Planning Commission and City Council to leave Union Avenue zoned Residential-Office.
David F. Jaffe, MD
Havre de GraceCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun