MedStar Health's proposed new health care building

A layout schematic of the site for MedStar Health's proposed new health care building at Route 924 and Plumtree Road in the Bel Air South community. (Courtesy of MedStar Health / December 18, 2012)

Even as the proposal by MedStar Health to build a 100,000-square-foot medical complex near the intersection of Plumtree Road and Route 924 continued to be well received at a meeting Monday of the Abingdon Community Council, plans by Walmart to relocate its Abingdon store to a parcel at the Plumtree intersection remain a source of community irritation.

During a session of the Abingdon Community Council at the Abingdon Library Monday evening, MedStar officials outlined more details about their plans for a "comprehensive care plaza" on the final lot of the commercial development known as Park Avenue near the Plumtree Road intersection. In addition to the 100,000-square-foot first phase of the project, there is a provision for an additional 30,000-square-foot building in a few years, should the demand for service increase.

The initial phase of the project, according to project engineer Gerry Powell, of Frederick Ward Associates, is on the agenda for the Harford County Development Advisory Committee Feb. 20 at 9 a.m. in the second floor conference room of the county office building at 220 S. Main St. in Bel Air.

Though the MedStar project, expected to have offices for 60 doctors and about 100 total employees, got a warm reception at the session, questions about the medical facility and its impact on traffic were interspersed with comments about Walmart's plan to relocate to a parcel near the same intersection, which is regarded by community members as already being over-stressed.

About half of the community council session involved an overview of the MedStar plan, while a substantial portion of the rest involved State Highway Administration officials reviewing the details of how intersections are evaluated and what is taken into account in terms of traffic impact when a development is proposed.

The upshot of the presentation was that each new development plan needs to take into account anticipated traffic impacts from other approved developments, as well as some planned developments, though there are so many variables it is difficult to accurately predict how much traffic would end up passing through any intersection, regardless of what is taken into consideration.

Steven Foster, of the State Highway Administration, likened it to trying to read a crystal ball. He went on to note that traffic coming from a new development increases over time, even if the number of residents doesn't change, as the children of initial home buyers reach driving age.

With regard to Walmart, Foster and John Vananzo, also of SHA, noted that their agency has been asked by the county council and county executive to deny Walmart access to Route 924 at the Plumtree Road location, but any decision on that matter will be driven by engineering, not political, considerations.

Moreover, even if access to Route 924 were denied by the state, the Walmart project is in keeping with county zoning, so the county would be obliged to grant access via Plumtree Road.

Cynthia Hergenhahn, head of the Abingdon Community Council, said she has been assured by the county executive and county council president that the county will be conducting some sort of comprehensive traffic study of the area near the Plumtree Road intersection with Route 924 to take into account the impact of not only the MedStar facility and Walmart, but also the proposed Harford Center for the Performing Arts and nearby residential developments that are under construction or in the works.

With regard to the details of the MedStar plan, project engineer Powell said it is anticipated there will 500 to 800 car trips daily to the facility, over a span of 12 to 14 hours when it is open. This doesn't include, however, trips by staff to and from work, he said, noting this would add two trips per person, one to and one home, each day.

The planned Bel Air MedStar facility represents a new model for the company, whose nearest hospital is Franklin Square. Previous medical centers operated by the company are in storefronts or professional center buildings. In Harford County, MedStar facilities are in the Bel Air Athletic Club building as well as at the Plumtree Professional Center. When the new facility opens, MedStar will consolidate the Plumtree and Bel Air Athletic Club operations at the new location.

Asked about how bright the lighting on the new MedStar parking lot will be, company officials said they hadn't worked out the details yet as this is the first facility of its kind MedStar will have in Maryland. At other MedStar locations in shopping centers, the lighting has been in keeping with what is available to provide security during business hours as well as after hours.