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New plans for Bel Air retirement community site submitted

Laws and LegislationLocal GovernmentDavid R. Craig

The developers of a proposed continuing care retirement community and housing development east of Bel Air have submitted a revised site plan which, in their words, "flip-flops" the layout of the retirement community and the houses.

The new plan also proposes fewer living units in the retirement community but more single-family homes on the remainder of the site.

Towson-based Presbyterian Home of Maryland and Elm Street Development of McLean, Va., are seeking approval from Harford County to build on 152.57 acres near the intersection of Route 543 and Amyclae Drive, about two and a half miles from downtown Bel Air.

The land, called the Eva-Mar property, is owned by Eugene & John Probst Trustees. Elm Street has a contract to purchase the entire property, with Presbyterian Home contracting with Elm Street to develop a 47.09-acre portion for the retirement community, said Joseph Snee, the Bel Air lawyer who represents Presbyterian Home and is a member of the nonprofit's board.

Residents of subdivisions surrounding the Eva-Mar farmland have expressed many objections to the original site plan, which placed the retirement community on the northern third of the property, bordering the Tudor Manor community. The 120 homes occupied two-thirds of the site.

The original plan also had the retirement community spread over 58.5 acres, with access to the property from Route 543 on the west end and from an extended Cloverfield Court in the Fox Chase community on the east. Under that plan, vehicles traveling to the Presbyterian Home community would have had to first travel through the housing development.

According to the new site plan, the development's main road still has access from Route 543 and Cloverfield, but the retirement community is on the south side of the property and is accessible almost immediately by a short driveway branching off the main road after the Route 543 entrance.

The number of proposed units for the retirement community also has been has decreased from 700 to 514, and the number of proposed houses has increased from 120 to 144.

About 400 people packed the auditorium of Southampton Middle School for a community input meeting on the project Jan. 6, when many blasted the developers, accusing them of being indifferent to the concerns of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Following that session, the developers withdrew the plan and canceled a county Development Advisory Committee review in mid-January. Snee said at the time the developers were responding to community concerns and revamping the plan.

A second community meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 24 at Bel Air High School. The snow date is 6 p.m. Feb. 27.

"My understanding is, the design team looked at it both ways originally and obviously decided to go with the first plan, but after the community input meeting decided to go back to the plan that's presented now," Snee said Wednesday, in explaining the switch.

He also said members of the design team planned to meet with representatives of Tudor Manor and Fox Chase Thursday and will to continue meeting with neighboring homeowners associations.

Bill Onorato, a resident of Tudor Manor who has been among those organizing against the project, said Wednesday that opponents are still "fired up" about the project, despite the changed plans.

"You still have the problem of trying to fit too much into too small of an area, really," Onorato said. "They've really just reshuffled things about a little bit but we still have the same fundamental problems."

A Facebook page, Citizens Against Plan for Eva-Mar Development, was set up earlier for opponents. Some recent posts on the page have speculated Presbyterian Home might be looking to build instead on a portion of the more the 200 acres west of Havre de Grace the city is in the process of annexing.

"I could tell you that PHM has not interested in that site," said Snee, who is also representing the owners of one of the parcels set for annexation by Havre de Grace called Mt. Felix farm.

Snee said the developers are committed to the Bel Air site because the demand for housing is from ZIP codes in the Bel Air, Forest Hill and Fallston areas.

Presbyterian home issued a news release Wednesday about the new plan, in which both the company's president and a high ranking Harford County government official are both quoted.

"We want the residents of Harford County to know that Presbyterian Home is listening," Presbyterian Home President and CEO Susan Shea said. "The re-drafting of the site was not imposed by the County. It was our decision to give up nearly 10 acres of land so that the revised layout would better suit our neighbors."

The release also contained a statement from Harford County Director of Administration Mary Chance, the highest ranking member of County Executive David Craig's government: "We want our seniors to be able to retire and live in the community where they raised their children and where their grandchildren live rather than having to move out of the county. That's why for years, Harford County government has supported the concept of bringing a continuing care retirement community to our area. We consider it to be a necessary and important amenity for a vibrant community."

Neither Chance nor Craig could be reached for comment Wednesday or Thursday.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Laws and LegislationLocal GovernmentDavid R. Craig
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