Moving the Bel Air Auto Auction from its hometown to Riverside, west of Aberdeen, will degrade the quality of life in nearby neighborhoods off Route 7, unhappy residents said during a county plans review meeting Wednesday.
"You are affecting families; you are not just affecting the economy," one resident told members of Harford County's Development Advisory Committee during their review of the 175-acre auto auction park proposed south of Route 7 at Stepney Road.
The meeting drew about 15 residents from the Holly Woods community and nearby areas who said traffic, noise and the overall impact of an industrial zone would erode their community.
Some also complained about the earlier community impact meeting and the poor advertising for hearings on the project. Wednesday's review was originally scheduled Feb. 5 but was postponed after an ice storm closed county offices.
Mike Maeder, of Holly Woods, said many more residents would have come Wednesday's meeting if they had been notified.
The site, being developed as Riverside East Business Park, would combine four commercial lots into one and include two buildings, including the corporate offices for the auto auction.
Bel Air Auto Auction is part of BSCAmerica, which hopes to add 175 to 200 jobs when it moves to Riverside. The Bel Air site, which occupies a sprawling tract on Route 1 just west of the town limits, employs 475 people. The existing corporate headquarters is nearby.
As proposed, the Riverside site would have three access points onto Route 7, including two roundabouts at Seven Trails Drive and Holly Oaks Circle.
The plan is to pull trucks and other auction-related traffic off Route 7 at the westernmost access point so they would only circulate through a private network of roads inside the auction site, with minimal impact on Route 7 traffic, explained Jeff Matthai of Morris & Ritchie Associates, the project engineer.
The parking would be screened from the road since the property sits lower than the road elevation, and the buildings would have a brick, residential facade, so they won't like a warehouse or industrial building.
Some residents suggested making the access from Brass Mill Road or Route 40 instead, but Paul Muddiman, also with Morris & Ritchie Associates, said that would be extremely difficult.
Muddiman said adjoining properties are owned by McCormick and other companies with warehouses nearby, and the rights-of-way to Brass Mill do not touch the auto auction property. Route 40 is even farther from the site.
"It would be a challenge to get permits to make that crossing," he said, adding: "We explored that."
Many of the residents said an existing roundabout at the Reserve at Riverside, a Route 7 apartment complex between Belcamp and Creswell roads, has terrible traffic flow and larger vehicles are unable to navigate the small lanes.
Maeder said another development along Route 7 will only make the situation worse.
"Route 7 is not a one-lane road anymore," he said. "It really needs to be two lanes of traffic, if possible."
Maeder said he and many residents take Route 7 to jobs at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and "coming back and forth from the commute is becoming bad."
Tracy Bryant, vice president of the Bristol Forest homeowners' association, thanked Morris & Ritchie for the "thorough presentation" but noted the Seven Trails roundabout could be an issue.
He also asked for sidewalks to be considered around the site, since the area gets foot and bicycle traffic.
Mike Sukits, vice president of Holly Woods Two homeowners' association, asked how truck traffic would leave the auto auction. Matthai said that is still being studied.
He and other representatives for the development said it is too soon to say how many vehicles might be entering and exiting the site at a given time.
The auctions, which draw licensed dealers from hundreds of miles away, take place on Thursday, but trucks could be coming to the property at any time, day or night. In Bel Air, police are hired by the auction company to direct traffic at the entrance on auction days.
Traffic design would include trying to accommodate the vehicles along Route 7, Rich Zeller, of the State Highway Administration, said.
"I know everyone is very concerned about the traffic along there," Zeller said, explaining the traffic plan is still under review.
More than 100,000 vehicles pass through the Bel Air Auto Auction each year, according to the company's website. Typically, most arrive and leave on trucks or trailers, with buyers arriving in their personal vehicles in greatest numbers on auction days.
Other traffic coming
With the auto auction likely coming to their neighborhood, residents also discussed the impact of a plan for additional apartments nearby, which was reviewed separately at the meeting.
Riverside Apartments LLC presented its plan for one more building at the 416-unit Reserve apartment complex.
The 16-unit building, at Belcamp Road, would be the third and final phase of the project, said Matthai, whose firm also represents that project.
He said all Route 7 improvements for the Reserve project have been completed.
Bryant also asked if sidewalks could be considered at that site.
Joni Brown, of Holly Woods, said all the construction in the area is also destroying animal habitats and she wishes development could be aimed at "dead areas" in the county instead, although the example she gave, Perryville Outlets, is in neighboring Cecil County.
"All the congestion on Route 7 is causing a lot of problems," she noted.
Moe Davenport, DAC chairman, said he is just as passionate about residents' concerns as they are, but he also noted the developers have the right to build on the properties.