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Proposed Abingdon development draws concerns about traffic, school crowding

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About 20 residents of the communities surrounding a 107-acre Abingdon farm, where developers are seeking Harford County approval to build 172 homes, stressed to members of the county's Development Advisory Committee that the development will create more traffic headaches and safety issues in the neighborhood.

"You're going to gridlock my entire community," Robyn Kalwa, president of the Box Hill North Homeowners' Association, said during the public comment portion of Wednesday's Committee meeting.

If approved by the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, the subdivision, which is called Laurel Ridge, would be built on land that has been farmed by the Hooker family for more than a century. It is at the intersection of Laurel Bush Road and Falkland Drive.

Amy DiPietro, associate with Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc. of Abingdon, presented the preliminary plan. She had presented a concept plan for the development to the committee in April and, as was requested at that time, she brought the more detailed preliminary plan to the review panel Wednesday.

Representatives of Pennsylvania-based home builder Toll Brothers Inc. also attended the meeting. Toll Brothers is listed as the developer and contract purchaser of the land.

Current property owners Joyce and Norman Hooker want to sell their acreage for housing development. The farm is currently surrounded by subdivisions such as Box Hill North and Overview Manor, and the county granted preliminary plan approval last year for a development directly south of the Hookers' farm, called Laurel Bush Estates.

No homes have been built yet on Laurel Bush Estates.

Box Hill North is west of the Hooker Farm property, directly across Laurel Bush Road. Falkland Drive provides access from Laurel Bush to the community, which is served by William S. James Elementary School.

The community concerns about traffic impacts expressed Wednesday were similar to those expressed during the April meeting of the Development Advisory Committee, also known as DAC.

Audience members said they fear for the safety of children walking to and from the school and noted traffic is already heavy around William S. James during the school day or events.

Doyle McCracken, vice president of the Box Hill North Home Owners Association, called traffic around the school "a bloomin' nightmare."

Residents also said they are concerned about William S. James Elementary's ability to handle an increase in the student population. Committee members said, however, the school would be able to absorb more students.

The school's enrollment in the most recent school year was 451 pupils, 86 percent of its capacity of 522, according to the Harford County Public Schools website. School officials have projected a decrease in enrollment through 2019, from 455 in 2013 to 390 in 2019, although such projects may not reflect the latest development plans for the area.

Neighbors of the property also said drivers regularly speed along Laurel Bush Road.

"Currently it is very problematic, when traffic is whipping down Laurel Bush and people are trying to creep out to [make a turn]," Stuart Preston, a resident of Overview Manor, north of the Hooker property, said.

A roundabout has been proposed for the intersection of Falkland and Laurel Bush to help slow down traffic, but Kalwa said roundabouts have not worked in other areas.

She compared roads in her community to the "Indianapolis Speedway," and other residents noted accidents are a common occurrence in the community, with vehicles colliding with each other, striking pedestrians, hitting trees or ending up in yards.

Residents suggested closing Falkland and taking a route to cut through Box Hill North away from drivers.

"Putting more cars in there is definitely going to result in a child being struck or killed," McCracken said.

The committee members, who come from various county and state agencies, including highways, did not commit to closing Falkland. The members can make recommendations for changes in the development plans, which developers must complete before the county approves a plan. Even if the panel were to recommend it, however, a decision to close a road would typically be beyond the scope of the review.

Shane Grimm, of the planning and zoning staff, said members understand the residents' concerns about traffic.

"Until it meets all the requirements, we will not approve the plan," Grimm said.

Committee members recommended revisions to the developers' traffic impact analysis, water and sewer plan and the grading for an area of active open space.

"It's not uncommon to see three, four, five series of a plan like this before it gets approved, Grimm said after the meeting.

One Box Hill North neighbor, John Brewer, asked why county officials couldn't "leave it the hell alone," and keep the Hooker property as a farm.

The property is zoned for residential and agricultural use.

Grimm explained that it is "not the prerogative of the county to develop this property," but only to ensure the developers meet all regulations and codes.

"Once they meet those requirements, then we're obligated to approve the plan," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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