Any Harford County resident who wants to have a say about future uses of properties in their neighborhoods must get involved now in the county's ongoing comprehensive zoning review process, according to community activists who serve as watchdogs over development.
"This is the time to get involved," Morita Bruce, co-president of the nonprofit Friends of Harford, said Sunday. "Once zoning occurs, you're fighting with at least one hand tied behind your back."
The Friends of Harford, which advocates for managed development in Harford County, hosted a public meeting on comprehensive zoning Sunday at the Abingdon Library. Bruce estimated after the meeting that at least 100 people had attended, and that the crowd in the library branch meeting room was "standing room only."
Roy Metker, a resident of the Bynum Hills community in the Creswell area southeast of Bel Air, is concerned about two proposed rezonings – one would convert agriculturally-zoned land in the 900 block of Cedar Lane to R2 residential, clearing the way for 120 houses.
His other concern is about a property zoned R1 near the intersection of Laurel Bush and Hookers Mill roads, a property also slated for housing development that the owners want to rezone to R2 to allow more intense residential uses, plus incorporate into the development land agriculturally-zoned land adjacent to his community.
"I've been involved in this sort of thing for a long time ... it's very helpful in meeting people that have similar concerns," Metker, who has lived in the Creswell area for more than 50 years, said of dealing with development issues.
The three-hour meeting included a presentation on comprehensive zoning and opportunities for visitors to talk with Friends of Harford representatives about their concerns regarding specific properties in their Harford County Council districts.
The county government kicked off the comprehensive zoning review last August with the introduction of legislation to the County Council from County Executive Barry Glassman. The process happens every eight years so the county can bring its zoning code in line with updated master plans.
The current master plan, HarfordNEXT, was approved by the County Council last June. Property owners can apply for changes in their zoning – the application deadline was Feb. 10, according to the county's web page on comprehensive zoning – and members of the public can provide input on proposed zoning changes.
The county has provided reams of information online; visit http://www.harfordcountymd.gov, go to the Department of Planning & Zoning's web page and see the link for 2017 Comprehensive Zoning Review.
People can comment in two public hearings before the citizen Planning Advisory Board on April 11 at Edgewood High School and April 25 at Bel Air High School.
Bruce stressed after Sunday's meeting that any use allowed under the zoning code is "legally enforceable," meaning concerned residents have little recourse when opposing a project on a neighboring property, if that use is allowed under the code.
People attending the meeting could stop at tables to review maps of properties in their district slated for development and rezoning, and they could read sheets of paper with long lists of the current permitted uses in Harford's various residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural zones.
Bruce said people who want to have an impact on zoning should review the permitted uses.
"Pick out the one that is the worst-case use under that zoning and ask if that would be appropriate on this property, or would it have too great an impact on the neighbors," she said.
Ralph Comegna, a resident of the Rumsey Island community in Joppatowne, talked with Friend of Harford board member Gloria Moon about how comprehensive zoning could affect his area.
He sits on the board of the Joppatowne Development and Heritage Corporation, as well as the board of the Rumsey Island Residents Association. Comegna said he is collecting information for the Joppatowne Development and Heritage Corporation so "we can form a position within our community about the future of Joppatowne as it relates to planning and zoning."
Comegna has lived in Joppatowne since 2011, and he also lived in Harford County during the 1980s. He said he thought the Friends of Harford "did a great job" in presenting comprehensive zoning to the public.
"I feel like I'm walking out with information on the planning and zoning procress that can help us positively influence not just our district but Harford County as a whole," he said.
Pegge and Michael Early, of the Maryland Ponderosa community near University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, wanted to get more information about proposed rezoning of residential properties along South Tollgate Road.
The houses are across from the Ashley Furniture store in the Tollgate Marketplace shopping center. Pegge Early described them as "in a state of disrepair" and "covered with weeds and broken windows and gutters falling down."
"We knew this meeting was going to take place, so we just wanted to stop and see what information would be available, what we could learn," Michael Early said.
The Earlys also wanted information about what could happen with the Bel Air Auto Auction property off of Route 1 once the move to a new facility in Riverside is complete.
"Zoning can be forever," Bruce noted. "That use might not happen next year, five years from now, 10 years from now, maybe 30 years from now."