About 40 people attended a Community Input Meeting Monday evening to voice their opposition to a 56-unit apartment complex proposed for the last undeveloped corner of the Benson intersection at Harford and Belair roads and the Bel Air Bypass in Fallston.
The site for the development, which is a permitted use under its B-3 zoning, according to Joseph Snee, the lawyer who was running the meeting, is next to one of the busiest intersections in Harford County that is home to the sprawling Jones Junction auto dealerships, 84 Lumber and the Maryland State Police Bel Air Barrack.
The proposed location, along with the perception of what comes with the relatively inexpensive rents of $1,000 to $1,400 per month, drew the ire of those attending the meeting.
“I bet there’s not one person in here tonight who hasn’t traveled that road and knows how counter-intuitive it is to be proposing this [project] at that intersection,” Jeff Conte said.
Conte, an Old Joppa Road resident, was one of the community members opposed to the apartment plan who spoke at the meeting held at the Fallston firehouse on Carrs Mill Road.
The only applause of the 80-minute meeting was elicited toward the end of the session by Brandon Wagner, who questioned the need for the project.
“Are we trying to diversify Fallston?” Wagner asked. “I just don’t see the market for this here.”
He continued and said people don’t move to Fallston either to live in apartments or to live in an area where there are apartments, drawing applause from the rest of those in the audience.
Despite the criticism, many of those at the meeting were resigned to the idea there was little they could do to stop the project, calling it a done deal.
Morita Bruce, a community activist well-versed in development matters, told the audience what Moe Davenport, the head of the Development Advisory Committee, told her about another project that had reached the stage where it was the subject of a DAC meeting.
“He told me that ‘unless it violates the law, and it’s not corrected, we cannot turn it down,’ ” she said.
After someone in the audience said “it’s a done deal,” Snee echoed, “Yes, it’s a done deal.”
“Apartments in B-3 [zoning] are principally permitted,” Snee said.
He also told the audience this site has been zoned B-3 since Harford County adopted its first zoning in the 1950s.
An aerial view of the site shows it is bordered by Harford Road (Route 147), the Bypass, a small shopping center that has a liquor store, beauty salon and snowball stand and Smith Lane, which leads to the Annie’s Playground/Edgeley Grove Park complex and which forms the property’s eastern border.
The site is 10.16 acres and zoned for high intensity B-3 and medium intensity B-2 commercial. Public water and sewer is available.
That the site has public water and sewer also irks some of those at the meeting.
“The rest of us don’t have public sewage,” Frank Hines, a resident of Terry Way, which is diagonally across the intersection from the proposed apartments, said. “We’ve been here for 30 years and we think that’s only fair” that other properties in that area would get public water and sewer.
A plan posted with the community input meeting information shows entrance to the site would be from the 1700 block of Harford Road on the west side of the property, a street laid out on paper called Benson’s Road or Benson’s Drive.
Snee, a partner in the firm Snee, Lutche, Helmlinger & Spielberger P.A., said the developer is Osprey Property Co. LLC, of Cockeysville, which has done some projects in Harford County.
The access road would wind along the western half of the site. The community center would be the first structure, with the four apartment blocks and parking spaces laid out around the remainder of the road which would dead end on the north side of the property.
A portion of the site closest to the intersection is open ground fronting on Harford Road and the Bypass. The plan on file shows most of the development would occur on the northwest side of the property.
Its B-3 classification permits garden and mid-rise apartments under special development regulations in the code, while high-rise apartments would require a special exception through the zoning appeals process, according to the code. Mid-rise apartments are defined as a building containing eight or more units with a common entry and either four or five stories.
Tax records list the owner as Susan Quick, of Forest Hill. The property was listed for sale for $1.9 million around 2014, according to an Internet search, but has since been off the market. Snee said Osprey is a contract purchaser.
Several years ago, there was a proposal to put a Wawa on the site, but the convenience store chain eventually built at Belair and Connolly roads, a short distance away.
Input meetings are designed to provide the public with an overview of a planned development and are considered highly preliminary in nature, according to county government website: “Community Input Meetings are required prior to submission of a concept plan, preliminary plan or site plan for any proposed development generating 250 or more trips per day … the Community Input Meeting is intended to facilitate dialogue between the developer and the community regarding the proposed development.”
The website also states that such meetings “are the sole responsibility of the property owner or developer.”