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Bel Air approves contract for new traffic signal in Harford Mall area

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A contract to install a long discussed and equally long-awaited traffic signal at Gateway Drive and Boulton Street was approved by the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners Monday.

The $85,031 contract with Thompson Electric Company of Aberdeen was approved unanimously with little discussion by the commissioners.

Public Works Director Randy Robertson gave a brief history of the project and noted that traffic studies done for the town have shown the intersection was "failing" for those making left turns from Gateway onto Boulton, "and the most effective way of addressing it is by installing a signal."

The project has gone through several years of debate, in part because there are other signals in close proximity along Boulton Street at Tollgate Road, the entrance to Harford Mall and Best Buy and at Route 24.

Residents of the English Country Manor neighborhood off Gateway have been pressing for a light because they say it is unsafe to turn on to Boulton, a congested thoroughfare running through the heart of one of the town's and the county's most visited retail areas. The construction of a second residential community, Legacy at Gateway, along Gateway Drive has added to the traffic on that street, town officials have conceded.

Robertson and several commissioners said they were surprised no one from English Country Manor was present Monday for a somewhat historic vote. Last spring, the commissioners budgeted $150,000 for the signal project.

Robertson, who said the design and engineering was completed earlier, told the commissioners he hopes to have the light installed "by May."

Parade leader thanked

The commissioners thanked and briefly honored Michael Blum for his work in directing the town's annual Christmas parade in December, which Blum said in brief remarks was the most successful Christmas parade the town has held since the event was revived in 2009.

Blum is also director of the town's annual Independence Day parade and has handled special parades honoring the likes of baseball hall of famer Cal Ripken, world and U.S. champion figure skater Kimmie Meissner and a special Veterans Day parade the town held in 2011, which Blum said he hopes will be held in future years.

Commissioner Rob Reier thanked Blum for undertaking the "Herculean task" of organizing and directing the parades, noting Blum is a volunteer.

Blum, who estimates he has directed 28 parades in Bel Air, took that one step further, pointing out that Bel Air is unusual in that its big events – and its July 4th celebration is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in Maryland – are all run and staffed by volunteers and all the planning is done locally.

"That's a great thing about living in Bel Air; our town can put together a celebration," Blum said, as Reier suggested Blum's next undertaking might be a Ravens parade.

Student honored

The town commissioners also honored Bel Air High School student Christopher Wilson, who was presented with a Student Achievement Award Proclamation by Commissioner Susan Burdette.

A senior at Bel Air High, Christopher has been identified as an exemplary student who has earned admiration from his teachers, as well as his classmates, Burdette said in reading the proclamation.

"Chris has mastered balancing his academic studies along with several sporting and volunteer activities," the proclamation continues. "Whether it be leading the Bobcats on to victory, or by beating out the competition on the swim team, we have enjoyed watching Chris grow as an athlete over the past four years. He has also proven to be a skillful and talented orator on the speech and debate team."

According to the proclamation, Christopher volunteers his time as a master tutor for English 9 class, serves on the Youth Group Leadership Board and Pastoral Council for his church, as well as finding time to devote to the Sharing Table Ministry.

Officer prompted

Bel Air police officer Sergio D'Alto was officially promoted to the rank of corporal during Monday's town meeting.

A five-year member of the Bel Air Police Department, D'Alto was praised by both Mayor Eddie Hopkins and Chief Leo Matrangola, who both complimented D'Alto for his integrity and commitment to the town police department.

D'Alto is a member of the sheriff's Hostage Negotiations Team and the Harford County Crisis Negotiation Team, one of just 49 patrol officers trained as a CIT officer in the county. He has also been recognized by the state's attorney for his drunk driving arrests in each of the past four years.

According to Matrangola, since becoming a member of BAPD, D'Alto has made 78 adult arrests, 24 juvenile arrests and 36 drunk driving arrests.

D'Alto and his wife, Angela, have two daughters, Julianna and Allison, and live in Harford County. Angela D'Alto and one of the daughters, along with D'Alto's mother and sister, attended Monday's ceremony.

Food trucks again

Tim Smith, who lives on Leeswood Drive just outside of town, talked briefly during the public comment portion of Monday's meeting about concerns he has with inconsistencies in the recently enacted law that permits food trucks and other mobile vendors to operate in town, but supposedly only in designated areas.

"The only place I've seen food trucks is on Main Street in front of the Tower [restaurant]," said Smith, who pointed out the new law does not permit the mobile vendors to operate indiscriminately along Main and Bond streets in the town's main restaurant district. He particularly mentioned recent Ravens rallies on Jan. 18 at the Armory and Feb. 1 on the county parking lot at Main Street and Churchville Road, where two mobile vendors were.

Town Planning Director Kevin Small said both rallies were "sponsored events" and the trucks had the permission of the sponsors to be there, but Smith said he disagreed with Small's interpretation, noting the trucks were parked on Main Street, not on the Armory property or the parking lot.

Once again, Smith referred to the map that was enacted as part of the new law, saying it specifically does not allow the vendors on Main or Bond. He asked Small if that means when the Downtown Alliance sponsors its first Fridays events on Office Street, if food trucks will be allowed on Main Street. The director of the alliance, Scott Walker, supported the new law.

Small replied in the affirmative.

"That's your opinion, not mine," Smith replied, adding, "Judges might have a different opinion."

Smith also suggested to the commissioners that the law "is a little too vague" and should be clarified, so the town police will be able to enforce it. "Making so [mobile vendors] aren't infringing on other businesses," he added.

According to town Director of Administrator Michael Krantz, one food truck operator has been granted a license since the new law took effect last week.

Smith, whose wife, Elise, owns a jewelry business on Main Street, also criticized the commissioners' recent decision to grant a $40,000, low interest town loan to a new cupcake bakery that will be opening on Main. He said the town should leave business lending to the banks.

"Would you personally guarantee that loan?" he asked, looking directly at the five commissioners. None of them answered.

"I'm just concerned about protecting our businesses," Smith said following the meeting. "You look at Main Street, and it's dying."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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