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Bel Air

News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

Developers of Bel Air retirement community won't change plans

Developers of a continuing care retirement community and surrounding single-family homes east of Bel Air changed their plans once, based on community opposition, but they do not plan to alter them again, despite opponents voicing many of the same concerns at a community input meeting Monday.

Neighbors who attended the session said they appreciated the changes developers made to their plans, but they said the current version does not fully address concerns about traffic and aesthetics.

"I think your area of interest is way too high," said Amyclae East resident Greg Marcinkiewicz of the developers' claims their project would benefit all of Harford County. "Bring it down to the Bel Air, Eva-Mar site area; I could care less about Harford County, I live here. Bring your scope down to our level, look at our neighborhood, look around our neighborhood, see what we have to offer."

"It's a plot of land that's not designed for a [continuing care retirement community]; that's the problem," said James Song, who lives near the Eva-Mar Farm off Route 543 (North Fountain Green Road) that is slated to be sold for development of the 514-unit retirement community and 144 single-family homes on the farm's 152 acres.

Presbyterian Home of Maryland, headquartered in Towson, would operate the retirement community, and Elm Street Development, headquartered in McLean, Va., would build the houses.

Joseph Snee of Snee, Mahoney, Lutche & Helmlinger PA , of Bel Air, the attorney for Presbyterian Home and a board member; moderated the meeting.

He said members of the design team have been meeting with as many community groups as possible, and encouraged residents to visit the Carsins Run at Eva Mar page on Facebook and the website http://www.carsinsrun.org for more information.

The farm is surrounded by subdivisions such as Amyclae East, Tudor Manor, Fox Chase and Wagner Farm.

The farm, which was owned by the late Lela and Eugene Probst and named for Mrs. Probst's parents' surnames, Evans and Marsh, is at the intersection of Amyclae Drive and Route 543. A trust set up by Mr. Probst before his death owns the property.

Similar concerns

Nearly 300 people attended Monday's meeting in the Bel Air High School auditorium, which lasted three hours and 15 minutes. An estimated 400 people packed the seats and stood in the aisles of the smaller auditorium of Southampton Middle School for a similar meeting in early January which prompted the developers to alter the layout of the development.

The majority of comments at both meetings were negative.

Neighbors are concerned about the potential for harm to their property values and to surrounding ecosystems and about making a bad traffic situation on Route 543 worse.

Neighbors of the Eva-Mar property also pleaded with members of the design team Monday to reduce the heights of the buildings for the retirement community – the tallest ones could be as high as 50 feet while the surrounding homes are 35 feet high – and reduce the number of homes to cut down on the amount of traffic that would be entering an already-congested Route 543.

"I'm not opposed to the fact of you," Tudor Manor resident Jennifer Wohlfort said. "I'm opposed to the size of you, the density of you... to put this on 543, which has already had some really nasty, nasty, deadly accidents during the past few years is an outrage to me."

Wohlfort said during a back-and-forth with Snee that "the county is not making you build 144 lots."

"No, not at all," Snee said. "But that's what we're going to do."

The comment elicited some cries of outrage from the audience and accusations that Snee was being "sarcastic" to residents.

"It's real harmonious, being threatening!" one man shouted.

Tudor Manor resident Sandy Peters also had some harsh words about the second meeting.

"I appreciate you giving us this time, but it really is a dog and pony show," she said.

Changes to plans

The developers withdrew their first plan in the wake of an outpouring of negative comments during the first meeting in January.

"In an effort to be a good neighbor and respond to the community concern we have invested a considerable amount of time and money into revising the plan," Amy DiPietro, of Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc. in Abingdon, said.

Morris & Ritchie Associates is the engineering firm creating the plans for the project.

In addition to DiPietro, Susan Shea, president and CEO of Presbyterian Home, Michael Charlton, of Elm Street, Megan Maffeo of Morris & Ritchie and Mark Keeley of Traffic Concepts Inc., the firm responsible for conducting a traffic study for the project, were present to answer audience questions Monday.

The new plans include a reduced "footprint" for the retirement community – it was cut from 700 to 514 units – and the locations of the retirement community and the single-family homes have been switched.

The first plan showed the retirement community on the north side of the property, bumping against the Tudor Manor community, and it has been moved to the south side of the property, where it bumps against Amyclae East.

DiPietro said a 50-foot buffer will be planted around the entire Eva-Mar property, and the traffic study will encompass 16 intersections in the area, as opposed to the 13 intersections previously considered.

She said a roundabout would be placed in the middle of the main east-west road connecting the property between Sparta Court and Route 543 and Cloverfield Drive as a "traffic calming device."

The majority of the intersections were along Route 543 and Route 22 (Churchville Road). The design team added Route 22 at Thomas Run Road at the entrance to Harford Community College, plus Route 22 and Andreas Drive and Prospect Mill Road and Wagner Farm Court.

Charlton, of Elm Street, said – in response to a question about why the Eva-Mar property was selected – that the farm met the needs of the project such as a large piece of land in the county's "development envelope" with access to public water and sewer.

"It's not the best road network, but it gives us something to work with," Charlton acknowledged.

Neighbors said they are fearful about the impact of hundreds of additional drivers, such as retirement community residents, visitors and staff, plus residents of the surrounding homes, entering and exiting the two-lane Route 543.

The community's main entrance is planned at Route 543 and Sparta Court, and residents asked for intersection improvements, such as a traffic light.

DiPietro replied that improvements, such as traffic signals, are up to the state, and she asked the audience for support in getting state approval for a light at Route 543 and Sparta.

"We are concerned about the traffic . . . we would love to see a traffic light at 543 and Sparta if that [study] warrants it there," she said. "We would love to see that. It would make the whole situation safer."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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