Plans to build a mixed-use office and retail complex at the intersection of Old Joppa Road and Route 1 (Baltimore Pike) in Bel Air drew fire Wednesday from residents and community leaders about traffic and overall increased development in an area still considered rural by those who live there.
David Taylor, president of the David G. Taylor & Associates LLC land planning and engineering firm of Abingdon, presented plans for the proposed Bell Gate Center to the members of Harford County's Development Advisory Committee Wednesday morning.
If approved by the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, landowner and Fallston-area developer Michael Euler Sr. would build a 2,621-square-foot fast food restaurant two 9,875-square-foot retail buildings and a 3,000-square-foot office building on 4.56 acres at a historically dangerous intersection for motorists.
The Bell Gate Center site is on the right-hand side when traveling north on Baltimore Pike toward downtown Bel Air and is directly across from land where Klein Enterprises of Owings Mills is seeking county approval to build a 258-unit apartment complex, plus about 3,000 square feet of commercial space.
The 17.7-acre site had been part of Harford County's historic Mt. Soma Farm, the remainder of which is owned by the county which plans to use it for parkland.
Euler owns both parcels where the new developments are planned and which are zoned B-3 for heavy business or residential use. Despite the rural characterization of the neighborhood by some residents, the area is also home to an existing office building and new and used car dealerships and other commercial development.
During Wednesday's Development Advisory Committee review of the Bell Gate plans, community reaction was still decidedly negative.
Mike and Ellen Pons of Country Life Farm, which is off Baltimore Pike, just north of Old Joppa, expressed concerns about the traffic impact, especially from a fast food restaurant at the intersection and served by an entrance and exit from the narrow Old Joppa.
Mike Pons' family, known in Harford County for breeding thoroughbred horses, owns and operates Country Life Farm. Ellen Pons is his sister- in-law. The Pons family is in the process of reviving their farm's breeding operation and plans to relocate three promising stallions to Country Life from another farm they own in Baltimore County.
Ellen Pons said she is concerned about traffic "stacking," or backing up in a long line on Old Joppa from the fast-food establishment.
"It just seems we're going to open up the door for a monster if we create these facilities," she said.
Members of the Pons family also spoke against the proposed apartment development an earlier Development Advisory Committee review in June.
Morita Bruce, a member of the Fallston Community Council and president of Friends of Harford, a land-use advocacy group, also critiqued the traffic impacts.
"This looks like it's not really set up to handle [a large] amount of business traffic, especially if there's a high-volume user such as fast food," Bruce said.
Gloria Moon, a member of the Joppa-Joppatowne Community Council and president of the Little Gunpowder Improvement Association, also weighed in Wednesday.
She noted the more than 200 apartment units across the highway would "compound this problem incredibly," regarding the business traffic from Bell Gate.
"I think it's a pretty serious problem, and I think for the residential units close by, it's going to be impossible for them to get in and out at rush hour," Moon said.
Moe Davenport, chairman of the committee, told Moon that county planning and zoning officials "share your concerns about the traffic."
"We're taking a hard look at the relationship between this and the other proposed developments in the area, at that intersection," he said of Baltimore Pike and Old Joppa.
Rich Zeller, who represents the State Highway Administration on the committee, noted Baltimore Pike and Old Joppa, as well as the nearby intersection of Connolly Road and Route 147 (Harford Road) are rated as "failing intersections," and the developer must take measures to fix those intersections. New houses are planned near the Harford Road and Connolly Road intersection.
Taylor said later that the plans are preliminary, and more engineering "still has to be done with regards to all design elements."
The plans for Bell Gate Center had prompted previous protests from among about 20 people who gathered for a July 17 community input meeting at the Fallston Volunteer Fire Company.