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Commentary: What will become of 'holes' in the middle of Bel Air?

PropertyRentalsLocal GovernmentTribune Media

Many of us have long thought of Bel Air, the actual incorporated town, as having reached the saturation point development-wise.

Unless the town expands through annexation, there are no really large undeveloped spaces left to conquer, or so the mantra went for many years. Even annexation has become out of the question, since most of the land surrounding the town limits has been developed or is parkland.

There are, however, a few big chunks of land smack in the middle of the town that are obvious candidates for redevelopment. The biggest of these are the former Aegis property and the O'Neill/Julio property that sit across from each other along Williams Street, just two long blocks west of Main Street.

The Aegis property comprises about three and a half acres and has been vacant for going on 18 months. The Julio property is another two to three acres or so bordered on the west by the Howard Park neighborhood. Look at them together on an aerial map, and you see what amounts to a "hole" in the middle of town.

I have no idea what will happen to either property. The Julio property, zoned for high density residential or mixed residential/commercial development, I believe, has been sitting idle so long that I can't remember the last time anyone, including the current owners who also own Bel Air Plaza, proposed any use for it.

As for The Aegis property, there were a few inquiries made when the buildings were shuttered last year, including one from the county government, but the Tribune Company, which owns the property and has been in a protracted bankruptcy, just began actively marketing the property for sale earlier this summer. This property is zoned industrial/commercial and includes the two buildings and several parking lots.

Whatever happens to these two properties - and maybe nothing will very soon - they take up a sizable area, and their future use could have a significant impact on the town, depending of course on what the use or uses may be.

Strangely, I haven't heard much talk about such potential impacts, including from town officials. Occasionally, someone will ask me about the future of The Aegis property, of which I don't have any inside information about, other than it's going to be sold. Call the broker for more information, I tell them.

I for one will be interested to see what develops with both properties - or maybe doesn't develop - and I do find it a little strange more people aren't talking about them and speculating about their future.

Does the county, state or town end up buying one or both? Does somebody decide to re-use The Aegis building as an industrial facility? Or, do they tear it down and build offices or shops or both? Do homes get built on the Julio property? How about high- or mid-rise condos or apartments, which was one use proposed long ago? Clearly the possibilities are many.

The economy being what it is, perhaps nothing will happen with either property for a long time. But out of mind - though hardly out of sight, in this case - also doesn't mean there will never be any development there, unless some public agency makes them either a park or a full-time surface parking lot.

Another question mark is the swath of property the county government owns between Main Street and Hickory Avenue - known for years as the Tire Warehouse property. This property is supposed to be the site of a new county office building, and I have no doubt it will be some day.

The county office building project has been dead in the water because of the economy. Also complicating its future has been the dispute between the county executive and county council over approval for a new Havre de Grace High School building. Some sources say they believe a deal is in the process of being struck on the latter, which means the new office building could finally start to move forward before the current executive and council leave office. We will see.

There's also the former gas station property at the corner of Bond Street and Churchville Road that, like The Aegis site, sits amid county government land holdings. Mike Euler owns that property, and he said this week he is doing feasibility studies for a mixed residential and commercial building – shops on the ground floor and residences (either rental apartments or condos) on the top two floors of a three-story building. Euler cautioned, however, that the project also depends on "feasibility of financing," and also notes he's been very busy with two projects already in progress: Aumar Village and Blake's Legacy.

Regardless of what may happen with any of the above sites in Bel Air, I've seen properties sit for years and thought they would never change, only to be proven wrong. Each time I return to the place where I grew up in Pennsylvania, for instance, I see something that wasn't there on the last visit, including my family's first home, having been turned into a hair salon. Woods, ballfields and cow pastures from my youth, that I thought would be that way forever, are now occupied by houses and shopping centers.

I suspect the situation with Bel Air's "holes" won't end any differently. Something will happen, we just don't know exactly what or when.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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