Harford to review controversial Eva-Mar development plan Wednesday

Plans for the controversial Eva-Mar development near Bel Air, a new Youth's Benefit Elementary School building in Fallston and a major expansion to the Oak Grove Classic Christian School campus near Bel Air will be reviewed by Harford County's Development Advisory Board on Wednesday.

Because of large crowd anticipated for the Eva-Mar review, the meeting has been moved from its normal location in the county administrative building to the Harford County Council chambers on the first floor of 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air, also known as the Black Box. The session gets under way at 9 a.m.

The committee, called DAC for short, is made up of representatives from a number of county and state agencies that must review and approval all subdivision plans before building permits are issued. Public comment is allowed at the DAC meetings.

There have been rare past instances where issues raised by the public at DAC meetings have resulted in projects being delayed or significantly revamped, most prominently the controversial plan to build a Walmart at Route 924 and Plumtree Road in Bel Air South. More than 16 months after the Walmart project was reviewed by DAC in October 2012, the plan has yet to receive final county approval.

The Eva-Mar project consists of a proposed 514-unit continuing care retirement community and 144 single-family homes on 153 acres off Route 543 between Route 22 and C. Milton Wright High School. The developers are Presbyterian Home of Maryland for the retirement community and Elm Street Development for the houses.

Residents of the heavily developed neighborhoods around the Eva-Mar property have banded together to protest the development, saying the traffic generated will overwhelm already congested roads and the site plan proposes putting too many people into too small an area, with potential adverse impacts on the environment. The site is zoned R-1, low density residential; however, a continuing care retirement community is a permitted use in R-1.

More than 400 people attended a community input meeting on the project in January, after which the developers revised their plans significantly, changing the layout of the site and cutting the number of units for the retirement community while adding to the number of single-family houses. A second input meeting was held on Feb. 24, when attendance was estimated at around 300.

The county council chambers has about 175 permanent seats and allowable occupancy is 259 people. The latter limit was strictly enforced when the Walmart DAC review was held in the room. A county government official who was monitoring the crowd that day estimated as many as 200 people stood outside in line waiting for spaces to open up inside the council chambers. More than 50 people carried picket signs along nearby Churchville Road.

The $45 million Youth's Benefit replacement project is expected to go out to bid this summer and be completed in time for the 2017-18 school year.

The plan calls for a 149,000-square-foot school built on two levels to replace the two existing school buildings on the site, the oldest which was constructed in the early 1950s.

The new building will be built around the existing ones in a manner that students will continue to attend classes on the site while construction is in progress. Capacity of the new building will be 1,130 students. About 950 students attend Youth's Benefit this school year.

The Oak Grove project is a 43,000-square-foot building that will be built in place of the middle of three existing educational buildings used by Oak Grove Classic Christian School. The Oak Grove campus, which is also home to Oak Grove Baptist Church, is along Route 22 between Prospect Mill and Thomas Run roads.

According to a report submitted following a community input meeting Jan. 27, the Oak Grove building will allow for the school's capacity to increase to 330 students. That will also require expanding the on-site septic system because the property does not have public sewer service. In addition, a new student drop-off area will be incorporated into the plan.

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