As the Harford County Comprehensive Zoning Review moves into its final phase, social media and old-fashioned shoe leather are both playing a role in mobilizing community support against some of the changes under consideration.
Two rezonings sought for properties in northern Harford County in particular, one at the rural crossroads in Madonna and the other at a busy intersection in Forest Hill, have prompted opposition groups to use Facebook, online petitions and websites to keep people updated on the process.
But they haven’t ignored using door-to-door contact and signs, too.
“This has definitely gotten people in the community talking with one another,” said Nancy Dance, one of the organizers of “Keep Madonna Rural,” which is fighting a request to rezone almost 8 acres near the intersection of Routes 23 and 146 from agricultural to high intensity B3 business.
Another group opposing a combination business and residential upzoning of a farm at the intersection of Routes 23 and 24 in Forest Hill, has blanketed the surrounding community with lawn signs that read “Protect this Village,” but also has posted a petition on change.org and is using Facebook to keep its followers posted on the latest developments.
“The petitions, filed by 2226 Rockspring Road LLC and Country Club Investors LLC, seek to rezone 35.16 acres of RR to 21.68 acres of R-2 and 13.28 acres of B-3,” reads a post on change.org about Comprehensive Rezoning issues D-01, D-02 and D-07. “If granted, the developers would be able to construct between 122 and 157 single-family houses, and more than 130,000 square feet of unrestricted commercial space.”
“Neither the surrounding road network, nor the marketplace can support development of this magnitude,” the post continues. “Moreover, a development of this size would overwhelm what remains of the Village of Forest Hill, leading to further encroachments on the rural setting we treasure, and destruction of what remains of natural habitats for the endangered bog turtle and other sensitive environmental features.”
There are a total of 112 properties whose owners are seeking zoning classification changes in the countywide Comprehensive Zoning Review process which is held every eight years. Those requests have been reviewed by the county administration and a citizen Planning Advisory Board. Recommendations by both are contained in legislation introduced to the County Council earlier this month, with the council having the final say whether a rezoning request is approved, modified or denied.
Both the county administration and Planning Advisory Board have recommended R1 residential zoning for the three Forest Hill properties, which would allow about four times more dwelling units than the 35 currently permitted, but no commercial development.
The council has a work session on the zoning legislation coming up Tuesday from 2 to 5 p.m. in its chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air. There are two public hearings scheduled on Oct. 2 at Aberdeen High School and Oct. 5 at Bel Air High School, both beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Dance’s core group, which she estimates at 25 people, has a Facebook page with about 150 followers and has created a website, keepmadonnarural.org, where visitors can sign up for email updates, find information of Comprehensive Zoning issue D-015 that the group is fighting, and link to the Harford County government’s Comprehensive Zoning Review web page.
Dance, who has lived on Norrisville Road (Route 23) for 35 years, said the group has also gone-to-door to tell people about the proposed rezoning.
She said about 200 people have signed a petition against the rezoning sought by Sandra Cook, whose business, Southern Sol Home and Garden, is on the property where the business is being sought. Cook declined to comment Thursday.
“We’re concerned that more B3 zoning will open the door to larger things the community doesn’t want,” Dance said. “There’s already under-utilized B3 here.”
Many rural crossroads across Harford County like the one in Madonna were zoned for business when the county first adopted zoning in the 1950s. As the county grew over the ensuing 60-plus years, many communities have waged fights against expanding what started out as small enterprises, morphing into what Dance called the “war of the Walgreens.” Very few of such fights have ended in victory for the opponents, however, as a drive through the upper reaches of the county will show.
Madonna has a High’s convenience store and a strip shopping center bordering the Cook property, the latter which is zoned agricultural. The home and garden operation has been there many years, Dance said. According to the county Zoning Code, such a business is permitted in the AG zone.
B3 zoning would permit such activities as adult bookstores, amusement centers, golf driving ranges, fitness centers, indoor shooting ranges, movie theaters, nightclubs, bakeries, printing plants and research laboratories, according to the code.
Dance said at least two existing buildings at the Madonna crossroads are vacant and have been for sale for some time.
“There’s really no need to add more B3,” she said. “Once it goes, it’s the domino effect.”
Dance said she doesn’t consider herself an activist and has “nothing personal” against Cook or her request to rezone her property, but she feels others in the community need to know what the zoning change could do if it approved.
“I want to at least make the community aware,” she said. “People are busy and unless you go to them and say ‘do you know?’ many have no idea what is happening, they aren’t aware. At least we can let them know they have this issue right here in their backyard.”
Both the county administration and Planning Advisory Board have recommended the Cook rezoning not be approved by the County Council.
Councilman Chad Shrodes, whose District D covers most of northern Harford, including Madonna, said he opposes the Cook property rezoning.
"When I originally ran in 2006, I ran on a 'keep us rural’ platform, and we need to have a transition from our commercialized area to our rural areas much of which are preserved,” he said Wednesday. "I feel strongly that the Department of Planning and Zoning, and the Planning Advisory Board were correct in their recommendation to the County Council on this comprehensive zoning issue.”
Dance said people in her community and in every community need to understand that when it comes to zoning, “it does not matter what you say you are going to do; you might have a lovely plan, but the minute you get B3 those plans could change, the ‘for sale sign’ could go up and [the community] is behind the curve by that point.”
Aegis staff member David Anderson contributed to this report.