At least 400 people jammed a middle-school auditorium in Bel Air Monday night to express their views, most of which were critical, about a plan to develop what would be Harford County's largest continuing care retirement community.
Most of what was said by the public was negative regarding the plan by Presbyterian Home of Maryland to develop the retirement community on part of a 153-acre farm near the intersection of Routes 22 and 543 in the Fountain Green area, a couple of miles east of Bel Air.
Many speakers stressed they understand the property will be developed, but they asked developers to adjust their plans so the project would be in harmony with the surrounding community.
Braving bitter cold with the wind chill in the teens, residents of surrounding communities, such as Tudor Manor, Amyclae East and Fox Chase, attended the community input meeting held at Southampton Middle School.
The meeting, which started at 6 p.m., lasted nearly three and a half hours and, at times, people had to stand in the hallway because there was no room in the auditorium.
Speakers talked about the likelihood for increased traffic on already crowded area roads like Route 543 and potential adverse effects the development could have on the environment and their property values.
A community input meeting is the first step mandated by the county in the review process for all new developments.
Layout changes suggested
Robert Carson, a Havre de Grace attorney hired by the residents of Tudor Manor, one of several communities surrounding the Eva-Mar property, stressed that "the zoning code in Harford County requires that buildings near the periphery of developments such as this have to be harmonious with the adjacent neighborhoods."
Carson presented suggested changes to the plan, including placing the retirement community, or CCRC, in the middle of the property and keeping forested buffers between Eva-Mar and the surrounding communities in place.
He also suggested that "a restrictive covenant be executed and recorded" restricting an extension of Falstaff Road, a street in Tudor Manor that could provide access to the development for emergency vehicles only.
He said that use should be in effect only if Route 543, the main access point to the development, is blocked.
Development of the Eva-Mar property where the 700-unit retirement community would be built would also include an additional 120 single family homes, according to preliminary plans Presbyterian Home has submitted to Harford County.
The retirement community will be operated by Presbyterian Home and the houses would be built by Elm Street Development.
Members of the design team – including Bel Air attorney and Presbyterian Home board member Joseph Snee, Presbyterian Home CEO Susan Shea, Amy DiPietro and Paul Muddiman of the engineering firm Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc., which maintains an office in Abingdon, and Michael Charlton, a vice president with Elm Street – fielded questions from a skeptical audience.
Byron Hawley, a resident of Tudor Manor who described himself as a "tree hugger," encouraged developers to look closer at the potential environmental impacts and study the traffic at one of the most congested times of day, when school lets out. The development will be less than a mile and a half from C. Milton Wright High School.
"Thanks for listening, and this is democracy at work, and these are my people," Hawley said.
One resident, Luis Estrada, of Tudor Manor, brought up connections between Snee and top county officials, in particular Harford County Executive David Craig.
He noted Snee had served as a campaign adviser for Craig, and that one of his partners in the Bel Air firm of Snee, Mahoney, Lutche & Helmlinger P.A., Kevin Mahoney, was appointed by Craig to the county's Economic Development Advisory Board last year.