Harford planning board nixes big industrial rezoning request, supports most others

Sighs of relief and gasps of disappointment were among the reactions of the 70 or so people gathered Wednesday evening to see how the Harford County Planning Advisory Board would vote on each of the 112 requests to have properties rezoned during this year's Comprehensive Zoning Review.

Those who live and work along Spesutia and Old Stepney Roads in Perryman breathed a sigh of relief after the board voted in favor of keeping a neighboring 88-acre plot residential rather than change the zoning to allow industrial uses.

As part of the Comprehensive Zoning Review, the Planning Advisory Board's votes are only recommendations, to go with recommendations from the county Planning and Zoning Department. The Harford County Council will ultimately vote to accept or reject the rezoning requests filed by property owners. The council is not encumbered to follow the recommendations from the administration or the advisory board.

Some other key positions taken by the four-member board Wednesday include:

The board agreed with the planning department's recommendation to keep the agricultural zoning for 15.57 acres at the intersection of Route 152 and Harford Road in Fallston, rather than the requested commercial-industrial zoning.

The board also agreed with the planning department's recommendation to upzone 35 acres at the intersection of Routes 23 and 24 in Forest Hill from the less dense rural residential to R1 residential.

And the board agreed to recommend upzoning a half-acre parcel adjacent to the Bel Air Auto Auction from R1 to B3. The auction is moving to a new site in Riverside later this year and its Bel Air properties on Route 1 are expected to be redeveloped.

The board disagreed, by a 3-1 vote, with the planning department's recommendation to approve a request to upzone about eight acres at Route 7 and Old mountain Road South from R1 residential to commercial-industrial.

The board also disagreed with the planning department's recommendation to keep six acres near Long Drive in Aberdeen agricultural after the owners asked for upzoning to B-3 commercial.

"This is not the final [decision], so just keep that in mind," Geoffrey Close, chairman of the Planning Advisory Board, said.

The County Council expects to receive the comprehensive zoning legislation in September. It will host public hearings in September and October and make a final decision either by the end of this year or early next year.

The department's recommendations and the advisory board's decisions will be compiled into a director's report that County Executive Barry Glassman will forward to the County Council, which has the final say in all zoning changes, Glassman's spokesperson said last week.

Nonetheless, the Planning Advisory Board's stance on rejecting the Perryman rezoning request was welcomed.

"This is an example of community coming together," resident JoWanda Strickland-Lucas said after the meeting, which was held in the Harford County Council chambers in Bel Air.

The property owners, listed as 88 Acres LLC of Aberdeen, are seeking county approval through the 2017 Comprehensive Zoning Review process to change the designation from R4 urban residential to GI, or general industrial, according to the county's online rezoning tracker.

Board members voted on whether to approve or deny each of the zoning changes recommended by the planning department. A second meeting, scheduled for Thursday evening, was not needed after the board voted on all the requests.

Board decisions

A gasp of disappointment could be heard when the four-member board unanimously approved the planning department's recommended up-zoning of more than 35 acres around the intersection of Route 23 and Route 24 in Forest Hill.

The property owners requested changing the zoning from rural residential to B3 commercial. The planning department recommended changing it to R1 residential.

"R1 is a more appropriate transition to the VR [village residential] zoning found along Rock Spring Road," Shane Grimm, chief of long-range planning, said.

Board members questioned making any changes to the zoning — members of the community have been against any changes to protect the character of Forest Hill.

Planning Director Bradley Killian said the area has been added to the county's development envelope — during the HarfordNext land use plan adoption last year, and a zoning change would be consistent with the countywide master plan approved last year.

"It was incumbent upon us to make sure that intensification did not impact negatively," he said.

The board voted 3-1 against the department's recommendation to not change the zoning of a combined nearly eight acres at the Route 7 and Old Mountain Road South in Joppa. The owners requested upzoning from R1 to commercial industrial.

Board members noted changing to CI would be consistent with the surrounding zoning — member Maria Terry voted in favor of no change.

The board also rejected the department's recommendation for keeping six properties along Route 22 near Long Drive in Aberdeen agricultural. The owners requested upzoning to B3 commercial.

That area has been designated for MO, or mixed office district use, according to Grimm.

The MO designation is used to encourage "major economic development opportunities," according to the county's website.

Beth Boyson, a Planning Advisory Board member, noted the properties are about 50 feet from the Interstate 95 interchange. She and her colleagues voted unanimously to give the six properties MO zoning designations.

Board members approved a request, which was also recommended by the planning department, to rezone nearly 24 acres behind the Aumar Village shopping center in Fallston from agricultural to R2 residential.

The board also approved up-zoning a half-acre parcel, from R1 to B3, adjacent to the Bel Air Auto Auction along Route 1 — the applicant withdrew requests to make other parcels B3, according to Grimm.

Striking a balance

The Perryman land is just south of Route 40 between Old Stepney Road and Old Philadelphia Road. All of the surrounding areas are zoned residential, except for land between the northern boundary and Route 40 — that land is zoned for commercial/industrial use, according to the tracker.

Planning and zoning officials recommended making about one acre close to Route 40 CI — commercial industrial — and the rest GI, or general industrial, Grimm told board members.

"Homeowners have great concerns about that particular part of the county becoming even more industrial," PAB member James Thornton said.

He questioned how planners could strike a balance between residents' desires to protect their neighborhoods and the industrial growth happening on the peninsula.

"I have some reservations, too," Close, the board chair, said. "I just wish we could come up with a better way here."

Killian said county leaders are "very aware" of how the industrial growth could affect residents, and they are having "internal discussions" about it can be done but not at residents' expense.

Board members debated the best course of action. Thornton moved to defer taking action on the recommendation, but he did not get a second.

Boyson then made a motion to leave the zoning as it is, which the board approved 3-1 — Thornton cast the dissenting vote.

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