Plans for Soma development show more acreage

Neighbors of the historic Mt. Soma property were already frustrated with a large proposed apartment complex slated for land at Route 1 and Old Joppa Road south of Bel Air.

Plans presented to the county's Development Advisory Committee Wednesday did not ease their concerns, especially when planners presented a proposal with more acreage.

The owner is listed as Soma LLC of Bel Air, and the developer is Klein Enterprises of Owings Mills.

Plans presented to the committee in May called for building 258 garden apartment units in six buildings on 17.7 acres.

Those presented Wednesday covered Lot 2, where the apartment buildings and community center will be constructed, and Lot 3, which will be home to a potential commercial development and the access road to the development from Route 1, called Old Joppa Court.

Representatives of Bohler Engineering offered a site plan that called for 20.4 acres; Michael Gesell, a project manager, said the extra acres are needed to provide for more active open space on the property.

And seven apartment buildings instead of the original six are proposed.

Bohler representatives also requested approval to "reconfigure" the boundaries of Lot 3 to build Old Joppa Court.

Shane Grimm of the Department of Planning and Zoning, who sat in the stead of committee Chairman Moe Davenport, said preliminary plans for Lot 3 showed it "as a lot to be subdivided and created."

"There's no proposed commercial development of the property at this time for that lot," he told members of the public attending the meeting.

Committee members representing the Harford County Health Department and the Department of Public Works recommended the engineers adjust their plans to fully meet state and local stormwater management regulations, and protect the nearby Winters Run, which serves as a source of drinking water for Maryland American Water customers in Bel Air, during construction.

The site is across from Country Life Farm, a thoroughbred breeding farm that has been operated by the Pons family for 80 years.

A proposed commercial development called Bellgate Center could be built across Route 1 from the Soma development, and the Pons family members, as well as surrounding residents have protested the increased residential and commercial development along the Route 1 corridor.

Grimm said the traffic study for the Soma development has been submitted to the State Highway Administration and is under review.

Rich Zeller of the SHA, who typically represents the agency on the committee, was absent Wednesday.

"That's the most important component of this [project], impacting the public, thousands of which aren't at this meeting, and I just don't see how this is an asset to Harford County," Ellen Pons said.

She also noted committee members had spoken about "recommended" measures that developers should take to mitigate impacts on the community.

"When we say recommended but not required, I think you're covering your butt but you're not protecting the people of the county," Pons said.

She added: "If in your head you know that that's the best thing to do, why can't we make it a requirement?"

Grimm said the latest stormwater management guidelines "are required for this project."

Mike Rist with the Department of Public Works said the developers' plans would not be approved until they could show they could meet requirements to mitigate stormwater impacts.

Mike Pons said the development along Route 1 and Old Joppa Road was "almost like a blitzkrieg of the community," making a reference to the World War II German military term for "lightning war."

"We have a business there, and we rely on U.S. Route 1, Old Joppa Road, [Interstate] 95, [Route] 152 for people to come and access our business," he said.

Pons continued: "For somebody who's been in Harford County for 80 years, at the end of the day, that's a difficult pill for us to swallow."

Pons said residents "will have long memories," and that "there will be pushback from the community."

Josh Pons said the development would "blow the entire area up."

"I wish there was some Wizard of Oz in Harford County that could really steer the development, but this is going to really stress Country Life Farm," he said.

Grimm stressed the plans for the Soma development would not be approved until the developer could meet all requirements.

"They are going to be held to the standards that are in place at this time," he said.

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