The county council, sitting as the Board of Appeals, would hear arguments and then make a decision.

A number of residents, plus two Harford County officials, testified against the project before Kahoe in February. Opponents were represented by Harford People's Counsel Brian Young.

The Evergreen trust also owns land on the east side of Route 24, which trust officials plan to sell to allow Walmart to build a store with a grocery section, significantly larger than the Abingdon store, which the Bel Air South store would replace.

Bel Air South residents have been even more strident in their opposition to the proposed Walmart, staging protests, spending hours pleading with the County Council to stop the project and attracting the support of state legislators.

Legislation was introduced before the council to require projects slated for B3 zones, such as the Walmart, to be subject to a stricter county approval process, but it died during the spring when council members declined to vote on it under threat of litigation.

The Walmart and apartment complex projects are not related, however, and are going through separate county approval processes.

Lengthy process

The apartment project has been the subject of two cases before the zoning hearing examiner. The entire project is Case 5781; a separate application, Case 5782, was filed to adjust the current zoning boundaries, allowing all 198 units to be built.

The developer could only build 197 complete units, and a fraction of the last unit, if the boundaries were not changed, because of the density requirements for each zone.

Kahoe issued a ruling in April approving the change; the ruling was appealed, and the Board of Appeals heard arguments in June. Board members did not make a decision, but plan to take the matter up again when council meetings begin in September.

The parcel is divided among R1, R3 and R4 zones, with the smallest section being in R3; Kahoe ruled that the boundaries should "be adjusted," so the R3/R4 boundary runs along the center of Tollgate Road, making the R3 section part of R4.

The Evergreen property is between both ends of Tollgate Road; the missing link would be filled in if the apartment community is built. Lynch noted during testimony in February that completing Tollgate has been part of the county's master plan for 30 years.

"The project will take place in a highly developed section of the County, an area which will benefit by the resulting completion of Tollgate Road Extended," Kahoe wrote. "The objections raised by the neighbors, while no doubt genuinely felt, are not sufficient to support a finding of adverse impact to the public welfare, and fall well short of the showing which must be made to support a denial."