Residents of communities surrounding a Bel Air area farm slated for a housing development and large retirement community pleaded with Harford County and state officials Wednesday to push the developers to reduce the project's scale or stop it completely.
A concept plan for the project, called Carsins Run at Eva Mar, was presented to the members of the county's Development Advisory Committee Wednesday. Though the majority of the public comments about the development were negative, a few people spoke in favor of the retirement community plan.
Developers with Presbyterian Home of Maryland, headquartered in Towson, and Elm Street Development, headquartered in McLean, Va., plan to build a 514-unit continuing care retirement community and 144 single-family homes on the 152-acre Eva-Mar farm.
The property, which is at the intersection of Route 543 (North Fountain Green Road) and Amyclae Drive, is zoned for residential uses, including a retirement community. The farm is less than half a mile north of the intersection of Routes 543 and Route 22.
"[Route] 543 and 22 are nightmares," Greg Baldino, a resident of the area, said. "They should have been addressed by the County Council and the DAC well before this."
Neighbors have fought the project for months, fearing the impact of hundreds of additional drivers on the already-congested Route 543, as well as the negative impact on their property values by having what they consider a commercial operation – the retirement community's hub – in a four-story building.
Other issues raised by opponents include potential environmental harm from clearing the forested portion of the farm and putting additional stress on wetlands that feed the Bynum Run stream, overcrowding of nearby schools and the safety of children who walk to C. Milton Wright High School.
The property is surrounded by subdivisions that have been built during the past 30 to 40 years, such as Tudor Manor, Fox Chase and Amyclae East.
Hundreds of people packed community input meetings hosted by the developers in January and February and, after hearing objections at the first session, project planners reduced the number of proposed retirement community units and increased the number of single family houses.
"Whatever is done on Eva-Mar is going to impact our woods, our non-tidal wetlands, our stormwater management," Byron Hawley, who lives in the Tudor Manor community just north of the development site, said.
Most residents who spoke against the project said they understand the need for development in general and for a local retirement community for Harford's increasing senior citizen population, but stressed the Eva-Mar farm is not the right place for it.
"All things being equal... I don't want to oppose the notion of a CCRC in general, but I just want my neighborhood to remain equal to what it is now," Tudor Manor resident Christopher McGovern said.
Seniors, county support
A handful of local seniors, speaking in the midst of strident opposition from those living near the farm, encouraged the review committee to push the project forward in the hopes they can remain in Harford County during their golden years.
"We really do not want to have to leave our church, our family, our doctors and our friends," Linda Corea, of Churchville, said.
Anne Brown, of Glenwood near Bel Air, said her mother has enjoyed her stay in a retirement community in Pennsylvania similar to what Presbyterian Home officials plan to build.
"We want the same opportunity to move into a place of our choice in Harford County... the CCRC at Carsins Run at Eva Mar will give us that choice," she said.
A continuing care retirement community is an economic development project that Harford County officials say they have been pursing for a number of years to give senior citizens a location to "age in place," to spend their final years at a single location with all levels of care they may need from independent to assisting living to long-term nursing care.
Presbyterian Home put out a news release in February in which a senior county government official, Director of Administration Mary Chance, all but endorsed the project.
A spokesman for the administration of Harford County Executive David Craig later said Chance was speaking about the continuing care or life care concept, not the Eva-Mar project specifically; however, opponents took the Chance statement as an indication Craig is supporting the project. Joseph Snee, a Bel Air lawyer and Craig fund-raiser, is a member of the Presbyterian Home board and has been handling the legal work on the project with the county government.