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Harford weighs changes at Bel Air South intersection because of growth

As the 198-unit Evergreen Woods Apartments project and other residential and commercial projects in the Bel Air South area move through the review process, Harford County officials are exploring the best way to engineer the intersection of Route 24 and Plumtree Road.

The same intersection is expected to be affected by Walmart's plan to build a new superstore in the area and by half a dozen other residential projects that are in the pipeline.

A concept plan for the apartment complex, which would be built in the southwest quadrant of the intersection at Route 24 and Plumtree, was presented to the members of the county's Development Advisory Committee Wednesday.

It was one of two new housing development projects reviewed Wednesday that are in the Tollgate corridor between the Bel Air town limits and Plumtree Road.

Although residents, Bel Air-area emergency responders and the developers have opposed closing Plumtree at Route 24 on the Tollgate Road side, county planning officials confirm they have considered that and other methods of controlling traffic, particularly because the developer of the apartment complex is required to extend Tollgate Road south from Plumtree through its property to Bel Air South Parkway.

Apartment buildings would be constructed on either side of Tollgate. The plan for the 17.5 acres includes a community center, swimming pool, beach volleyball court, as well as large areas of open space and stormwater management facilities.

Once it is extended, Tollgate will finally become a continuous parallel road to Routes 24 and 924 from Bel Air to I-95 in Abingdon.

It is the last open section of Tollgate, and bringing together the sections that serve the corridor between Bel Air and I-95 has been part of Harford County's master plan for decades.

"That is a major transportation element... we've been waiting 25 years for that piece of Tollgate Road to go through," committee chairman Moe Davenport said.

Planning and Zoning Director Pete Gutwald said after Wednesday's meeting that county officials must consider the "close proximity" of the Route 24 and Plumtree intersection to the intersection of Plumtree and Tollgate and the traffic impact if Tollgate is extended.

Gutwald said officials have been putting forth "thoughts and ideas" on how Route 24 and Plumtree should be engineered, whether it should be closed or the traffic patterns should be changed.

"There has been no determination of what the improvements are, what the traffic circulation patterns will be at this time," he said.

Various 'scenarios'

Bill Snyder, who represents the county's volunteer fire and EMS companies on the review committee, said public safety officials oppose closing any part of the intersection.

Snyder, an assistant chief with the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, said closing the intersection "would greatly reduce our access to the developments that have been there for a long time."

"Although Harford County had identified the Tollgate Road extension and connection in the 1994, 2000 and 2010 plans, what may have looked good then is not suitable today," Cypress Drive resident Bill Wehland said, reading from prepared remarks during Wednesday's DAC meeting.

Wehland, who lives three-tenths of a mile from the Evergreen property, has been a vocal opponent of the apartment complex and the proposed Walmart which would be built in the southeast quadrant of the intersection.

He noted the Evergreen developers have been against closing Route 24 and Plumtree.

Bel Air attorney Robert Lynch, who represents the developer, listed as Evergreen Apartments LLC of Timonium and the late property owner Haron Dahan, said his clients are against closing the intersection. Lynch, a former director of planning for the county, also noted that local residents supported keeping the intersection of Plumtree and Route 24 when the latter was being designed and built in the late 1980s.

"There was an overwhelming consensus that Plumtree Road should not be closed," Lynch said following the meeting.

Harford County Chief Highway Engineer Jeff Stratmeyer said no decisions have been made about the intersection.

"All possible scenarios are being studied," Stratmeyer said via e-mail sent through county government spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson. "The county is aware of the proximity of the Plumtree Road/Tollgate Road intersection to the Plumtree Road/MD24 intersection, and potential for issues related to queued vehicles between the two intersections. Until we receive the results of the traffic study and are able to analyze it, we won't be able to say with certainty what the outcome will be."

Other residents at Wednesday's review of the apartment plan expressed concerns about traffic safety and overcrowding in nearby schools such as Emmorton Elementary School.

Apple Tree Orchard

Apple Tree Orchard, plans for which were also reviewed, is likewise expected to have an impact on the growing Tollgate corridor.

Developers are seeking approval to create 31 townhouse lots and one single-family house lot on 24.4 acres at the intersection of Tollgate Road and Winter View Drive, which is about half a mile north of the roundabout at West Ring Factory Road and Tollgate, and slightly more than one mile north of Tollgate and Plumtree, where Evergreen Woods will be built.

The developer is listed as Bob Ward Companies, of Edgewood, and the owner is listed at Kanaras LLC, also of Edgewood.

Residents who live near the property said they object to having townhouses in their community. One man who spoke Wednesday said he fears they could be a draw for low-income residents.

Residents said they experience significant traffic backups along Tollgate during weekends and holidays, as drivers head to and from Harford Mall, restaurants and Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, and they noted they will also have to deal with the traffic Evergreen Woods is expected to generate.

Walmart update

The additional traffic expected to be generated in the corridor by the planned 186,000-square-foot Walmart also remains a concern of many residents and county officials alike.

The project has been in the works for two years, and many members of the surrounding community have been strident in their opposition.

Gutwald said Wednesday that Planning and Zoning officials are still going through a revised traffic study they received from Walmart officials just before Thanksgiving.

Earlier, county officials asked the State Highway Administration to deny Walmart's request to design an access from its 17-acre site directly to Route 924, which like Route 24 is a state highway. The SHA has agreed and denied the access request.

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