Volunteer watchdog group stakes out positions on Harford comprehensive zoning review

Friends of Harford, the 20-year-old Harford County land use watchdog group, is offering its view of the 115 properties whose owners are seeking to have those parcels rezoned during this year's comprehensive zoning review.

Among the requests drawing concerns, if not outright opposition, are parcels in the area of Routes 1 and 152 in Fallston and Route 543 and Prospect Mill Road in the Bel Air neighborhood of Fountain Green.

During the group's annual meeting Saturday, Morita Bruce, co-president of Friends of Harford, cited cases of properties next to each other just west of Route 152 between Harford Road (Route 147) and Belair Road (Route 1).

The respective applicants, Aumar Village and Aumar Heights, want the county to up-zone a combined nearly 24 acres from agricultural to R2 residential.

Bruce said Friends of Harford recommends R1 zoning for less-intense residential use, because of the existing single-family houses nearby and a 57-acre farm that is protected from development through agricultural preservation.

She noted there is already heavy traffic on Route 1 and Route 152.

"The trips on this road are incredible," Bruce said.

Her comments were among those made during Saturday's annual meeting by members, who researched each of the 115 properties up for rezoning under the countywide comprehensive review process, which must be conducted at least once every eight years under county law.

The county's Planning Advisory Board, which held two community input meetings on comprehensive zoning in April, is scheduled to vote this month on what properties it recommends for rezoning.

Those recommendations then go to the county's Department of Planning and Zoning and the county executive, and the county government provides its recommendations to the County Council, which has the final say.

The council is scheduled to make its decisions in the fall and is required to hold a public hearing before voting on any of the changes.

Extensive analysis

Friends of Harford members have done extensive research into each of the 115 properties submitted to Harford County for rezoning, a presentation that warmed the heart of a member who helped found the organization two decades ago.

"There are great people, and they put in hours and hours of volunteer time picking up this information and putting it together," Judy Blomquist, a member of the organization's board, said.

Blomquist, a retired Harford County Public Schools teacher, who lives in Havre de Grace, was one of about two dozen people who attended the annual meeting Saturday at the Abingdon Library.

Friends of Harford held its first public meeting in May of 1997, according to its website. The volunteer organization reviews land use and zoning matters in Harford County throughout the year, works to educate the public on the county's development process and presents recommendations to county officials.

Blomquist said the founders wanted to "create the best county we could."

"We weren't against development, but we wanted it done properly, and we wanted it done in the right places and we wanted to stand, in some cases, between the [county] council person and the developer so deals were not made that the public was not aware of," she said.

Some property owners are seeking zoning changes that would allow for much more intense residential or commercial uses, which causes great concern for Friends of Harford and other community organizations. Others want to make smaller-scale changes that still could have an impact on the community in the future, they noted.

District by district

On Saturday, an FOH member presented findings on rezoning requests broken down by each of the county's six councilmanic districts, A through F, using the same designations found on the county's online 2017 Rezoning Tracker and 2017 Rezoning Log.

The presenters focused on the requests that prompted a "strong no" from Friends of Harford because of the potential to add traffic in already-congested parts of the county, environmental harm, a negative impact on neighbors' quality of life, or the desired use conflicts with the goals of HarfordNEXT, the county master plan approved in 2016.

Presenter Sally LaBarre, an FOH board member, also cited traffic concerns when describing the organization's "strong no" in case C-5, which involves a request to up-zone, from ag to B1-neighborhood business, slightly more than one acre off of the intersection of Route 543 and Prospect Mill Road east of Bel Air.

LaBarre described the intersection as "a death trap" and "a terrible place to put B1."

Adjacent parcels are zoned B1, according to the county's zoning tracker, and there is heavy residential development in the surrounding area.

Board member Glenn Dudderar, who presented cases in District F, expressed concerns about projects in the Abingdon area that appear to be poorly planned in terms of traffic access, are outside of the county's development envelope or do not conform with HarfordNEXT.

"These things can be done well if properly planned and if existing regulations are enforced," he said.

Bel Air resident Linda Flint said she has known of Friends of Harford through her participation in the Churchville/Creswell/Fountain Green Community Advisory Board, as representatives have attended and made presentations at the CAB's meetings.

"If you see the building coming up, then it's too late to complain," Flint said. "You need to know what's going on in your community, so they're a greet resource."

Dr. Bruce Kinzinger, a physician who lives in Fallston, attended his first Friends of Harford function. He wants to make Harford County more bicycle friendly, for health and safety reasons, and a friend recommended he attend Saturday's meeting.

"This seems like a great organization," he said. "Their visions and objectives tie in with improving quality of life and thereby accessibility by bicycle."

Priority concerns

James Thornton, a Planning Advisory Board member, and County Council members Mike Perrone, Patrick Vincenti and Curtis Beulah were in the audience for Saturday's meeting.

The planning and zoning director's report and a comprehensive zoning bill are scheduled to be submitted to the County Council in September, according to the county website.

Perrone said the council will hold its public hearing four weeks after the comprehensive zoning bill is introduced, so the council might not take a vote until October or November.

He said the Friends of Harford meeting gave him a sense of what the community's priorities are regarding rezoning.

"This is a good way to raise the flags for us so we should know what to focus on," he said.

Those who attended Saturday's meeting could get information on FOH's revamped website, http://friendsofharford.com, the organization's annual report, pages of information on the comprehensive zoning and general county zoning and development regulations.

"The development laws such as the zoning code largely focus on new development, which is fine, but I don't think there is enough protection for those of us who already live here or farm or have businesses," Bruce said.

She said that means county residents are "truly and understandably scared" when they hear about a rezoning or redevelopment.

"If we can enhance the zoning code to provide the necessary protection for those of us who are already here, then there should be a lot less opposition to new development," Bruce said.

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