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Bel Air development plans draw fire from residents of adjacent new development

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Some residents of the new Richardson's Legacy development off of Tollgate Road in Bel Air took issue Wednesday with plans for a new community of more than 300 homes – approved in 2011 – being built around them.

Besides adding hundreds of more cars to already overcrowded roads, especially Tollgate, several residents from Richardson's Legacy also told members of the Harford County Development Advisory Committee at their meeting Wednesday morning in Bel Air that they don't want their community of 42 homes connected to the much larger Magness Overlook, a development of 224 homes. Among the neighborhood's residents speaking at Wednesday's meeting was Nancy Giorno, a former deputy county attorney who is now legislative liaison for Harford County Executive David Craig.

The plans call for development of the property of Bob and Sondra "Sandy" Magness on the north and south sides of Ring Factory Road. The original plan was approved in 2011. It was before the Harford County Development Advisory Committee Wednesday with some revisions, which consultant Don Sample said are more environmentally friendly.

"Our goal is to preserve what's out there, to preserve as many trees as we possibly can," Sample said.

The north side, about 62 acres, will include 167 townhomes and 57 single-family homes, while the nearly 62-acre south side, Magness Farms, is exclusively single-family homes. Ryan Homes will be the builder in both communities.

The new plan calls for the same number of homes to be built – 302 - but reduces the number of townhomes from 175 to 167.

For a good portion of the meeting, comments were directed not to DAC committee members, but to Sample, who represents the developer, Somerville LLC, about the connection of the two neighborhoods at the end of Plowman Way, which will give all residents of Magness Overlook access to their neighborhood.

The townhomes, which will cost in the mid- to upper-$200,000 range, are what some of the residents of the adjacent Richardson's Legacy had issues with, saying the townhomes will decrease the value of their homes, which are selling for between $515,000 to $650,000.

"We moved in six months ago. We made a very calculated decision to move into a neighborhood with only 42 homes. The number of townhomes proposed is very, very, very disappointing," Tanya Svoboda said. "They're nowhere near the value of our homes and we hope to live here a long time."

Townhouse residents, she said, are more transient, and the value of the house drops each time ownership turns over.

"It's disappointing for us who have chosen where we want our families to grow," she said. "The likelihood is over time this is only going to hurt us."

Residents in 42-home communities look out for each other's children, she said.

"In a community of 300-plus homes, you don't have that," Svoboda said.

The Magnesses, who sold the Magness Overlook property to Somerville LLC and still own and live on the Magness Farms parcel, said they were doing the best they could with their development in the best way possible while complying with all the county and state rules and regulations.

They took offense at the townhouse comments, feeling like Richardson Legacy residents were implying it's a lower class neighborhood.

Sara Desai said she and her family also very carefully picked the neighborhood where they wanted to live.

"We bought into a 42-home community," Desai said replied. "We're not saying that it's low rent or low class."

"We just want information we wish he had previously," Scoslo Way resident Cleo Pappas said. "We want to know how our properties will be impacted."

Sample, working for the developer, said "we welcome your kids to come play on our fields."

"You are implying that we think we are so much better than them, that we would shun people living in the townhouses," which isn't true, Desai, a former townhouse resident, said.

Sandy Magness said she and her husband have been working on the development for more than a decade, and had to pay to get out of soil conservation and agricultural preservation.

"We have been farm stewards, we've taken care of both sides of our property," she said. "We want to have as little impact on this property as there can be."

Her property and plans have been greatly affected by the development of Richardson's Legacy, she told the residents of that neighborhood who were at the DAC meeting. Tons of dirt was brought in to raise the grade of the community, which "created a cliff" from their neighborhood to her property.

For anyone who has the last farm left in the development and wants to develop it, Magness said: "God help you. No one wants their view to change."

They've farmed their fields for years, but finally said "enough is enough," she said.

"We have not lied at meetings, and I take offense" that anyone working with us has "ever lied to any of you.," she said. "To Richardson's Legacy residents, I don't know what to tell you...We have done the best we could do."

"The best you've done is not good enough for us," Svoboda replied.

Plans for developing the Magness properties on both sides of Ring Factory Road have been approved for more than a year, getting preliminary plan approval in December 2011. One of the first homes in Richardson's Legacy was sold in October 2011, with a handful sold in November; the majority were sold in 2012, according to the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation information.

The plan presented to DAC Wednesday is only a revision, Sample said, and includes fewer townhomes and eliminates a public thoroughfare between the two sections of homes on the northern side of Ring Factory Road.

That change alone reduces by two the number of acres of forest that have to be cleared and the impervious surface in the neighborhood. It also has less of an impact on wetlands.

The bridge will be heavy enough to allow a full-size fire truck to cross to access the lower portion of the neighborhood from the upper, but will be closed off to any other vehicular traffic. It will be part of a bike and pedestrian path through the community, which will also connect by a path to Richardson's Legacy.

The revised plan also includes a small playing field, a pavilion and a youth bike path, as well as parking for the gang mailboxes, which are becoming standard in newer neighborhoods.

Lauren Schneebaum, from Plowman Way, is concerned about those amenities. Her house backs up where they are proposed, and she said she and her family moved out of one neighborhood because they backed up to a tot lot.

"Kids, teenagers hang out there at night, drinking, doing drugs," she said. And it's hard to keep them away.

Giorno, who worked for the county for 34 years before retiring and becoming a legislative liaison, asked how the neighborhood will be built out.

Sample said initially it was three phases, but was increased to five. The southernmost portion of the northern parcel, which accesses Ring Factory Road, will be built first with a mix of townhouses and single-family houses, followed by the northwest portion of a mix of townhouses and single-family houses, with the northeast portion of townhomes only after that.

The parcel on the south side will be the last two phases.

Development of the first phase could begin as soon as spring 2014, with construction of the houses to follow shortly after.

"The second phase will be driven 100 percent by sales," Sample said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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