Rezoning requests for Fallston, Forest Hill and Perryman dominated the discussion Thursday evening during the Harford County Council’s second – and final – public hearing on the 2017 Comprehensive Zoning Process.
“I know that my generation, everyone that I’ve talked to, feels that there is a problem with the development in Forest Hill, and a lot of us feel that there’s nothing that we can do,” resident Julia Williams, a 2015 graduate of North Harford High School, said.
Williams was one of more than 40 people who signed up to speak during the hearing, which was held at Bel Air High School in the auditorium.
Council President Richard Slutzky and Councilmen Curtis Beulah, Mike Perrone, Chad Shrodes and Patrick Vincenti sat at a table on stage and listened. Councilman Joe Woods, who is deployed with FEMA in Florida to help with Hurricane Irma recovery efforts, participated via Skype and was watching on a laptop computer screen placed where he would have normally sat. Councilman Jim McMahan did not attend.
The council has the final say on 112 requests for rezoning that have been filed by property owners in this comprehensive cycle, which takes place every eight years.
Each request, or “issue,” is classified by Harford’s six councilmanic districts.
Williams was one of a number of people who asked the council to turn down requests to rezone property in Forest Hill and stem the tide of commercial and residential development along Route 24. The properties are in council District D represented by Shrodes.
Williams and other speakers asked the council to turn down issues D-001, D-002 and D-007. Property owners have requested, in issues D-001 and D-007, up-zoning from rural residential to B3 general business, and from RR to R2 residential.
Parcels in all three issues are clustered around the intersection of Route 24 and Route 23.
Williams expressed concerns about increased traffic, on protecting wildlife, on preventing runoff pollution from more paved surfaces and on preserving farmland. She said North Harford has an agricultural magnet program — the Natural Resources and Agricultural Science Magnet Program is open to high school students countywide.
“What are we going to do when there’s no farmland left over?” she asked.
Several speakers asked for the council’s support on issue D-009 in northern Harford. Andrew Cary is seeking approval to up-zone from agricultural to commercial-industrial, or CI, so he can expand his Darlington business and create more jobs.
“[Expansion] would allow other people like me to be hired and have the opportunity to get clean and sober like I have,” said David Walker, one of Carey’s employees. “That is why I stand here wholeheartedly to declare my support for D-009.”
Morita Bruce, a Fallston resident and co-president of the citizen group, Friends of Harford, cautioned that zoning changes can open the door to a number of intense uses not anticipated by the community.
Bruce said “plans can change in the blink of an eye.”
“What stays with the property is the zoning,” she added.
Bruce weighed in on issues B-012 and B-014, requests by Fallston developer Michael Euler Sr. to up-zone agricultural land bordering the Aumar Village shopping center to R2, which would allow intense residential development.
Bruce and other Friends of Harford representatives asked council members to file an amendment adjusting the change to R1 residential.
Stephanie Flasch, who serves as co-president with Bruce for Friends of Harford, requested that Woods file amendments on issues B-012 and B-014, as well as issue B-002, a request to up-zone land along Pleasantville Road near the intersection with Route 152 from AG to B1, or neighborhood business.
Flasch said other council members should file amendments if Woods, who represents the Fallston area, cannot because he’s in Florida.
“District B needs to be represented during this critical zoning process,” she said.
Perryman residents, and those who live in other parts of Harford County, spoke out on issue F-001, a request to rezone 88.01 acres near Old Stepney Road and Route 40, from R4 to general-industrial.
The property, which is being farmed, is surrounded by mostly residential communities, although adjacent land along Route 40 is zoned CI, or commercial industrial.
Residents have expressed concerns that industrial facilities similar to those farther south on the Perryman peninsula could be built on those 88 acres, generating truck traffic in their neighborhoods and harming forests, wetlands and wildlife.
“We’re going to be going from farmland to general-industrial, [for] which there is no need,” said JoWanda Strickland-Lucas, who lives on Old Stepney Road adjacent to the F-001 property.
Perryman resident Donkayia Carter said she thinks going to GI zoning “would be a huge mistake.”
Bel Air attorney John Gessner, who is representing the property owner, Webster Wright, stressed that any development will comply with county, state and federal laws.
He said buffers must be created to screen residences from industrial facilities, and he later pointed out that the wooded buffers already cover most of the property.
“This property has noting to do with the existing or proposed warehouse projects on the Perryman peninsula and will not increase impacts caused by those other projects,” Gessner said.
He countered notions that site plan approvals are “just a formality,” and that it is necessary to take on a property’s zoning to protect it from development.
Gessner said the county did not approve Walmart’s plans to build a store along Route 924 south of Bel Air “because it couldn’t apply with applicable law.”
“I can’t imagine Harford County would do anything different in this case,” he said.
Wright, the property owner, said later that the acreage has been in his family for five generations. He lives in Havre de Grace and is married to Mary Martin, the sister of Havre de Grace Mayor Bill Martin.
He said “we hope to have a good use for” the property that would create jobs.
“Something like this could be a shot in the arm to help Route 40,” Wright said.
"Thank you for having this public meeting," Alan Sweatman, of Havre de Grace, told the council members. "Let's hope that public input counts for something."
Slutzky, the council president, has not set a timetable for voting on the 112 rezoning requests.