The concept plan for a continuing care retirement community and 120-home residential development on a former farm east of Bel Air has been pulled from the agenda for the Feb. 5 meeting of the Harford County Development Advisory Committee, to redraw the plans after an outpouring of opposition from communities surrounding the property.
Bel Air attorney Joseph Snee is representing Presbyterian Home of Maryland, which is headquartered in Towson, in its effort to build the 700-unit retirement community on a large portion of a 152.57-acre parcel off Route 543 (North Fountain Green Road), just north of the intersection with Amyclae Drive.
The plan also calls for 120 homes to be built on the property, a former farm known as the Eva-Mar property and owned by Eugene & John Probst Trustees; Elm Street Development, headquartered in McLean, Va., will be developing the residential portion.
Snee confirmed Saturday the concept plan was withdrawn from the DAC agenda early last week.
"We paid careful attention to the reasonable comments of the citizens that attended the CIM [Community Input Meeting], and as a result of that our design team met about a week later – and has been continuing to meet – and they're trying to essentially redesign the entire site to meet the needs of the surrounding community," he said.
The property is surrounded by housing developments such as Tudor Manor to the north, Fox Chase to the east and Amyclae East to the south.
About 400 people, many from the surrounding communities, attended a community input meeting Jan. 6 in the Southampton Middle School auditorium.
Speakers at the meeting, which lasted about three-and-a-half hours, blasted the project and expressed concerns over the traffic being generated along an already-congested Route 543 and the potential impact to the surrounding neighborhoods, emergency services response times, the environment and their property values.
Eva-Mar remained on the DAC agenda as of Saturday. Committee Chairman Moe Davenport announced during the previous meeting that the Feb. 5 meeting would be held in the Harford County Council Chambers on Bond Street in Bel Air to accommodate potentially large crowds.
Committee meetings are typically held in the county government complex on South Main Street in Bel Air.
Residents have formed a group, 543 Concerned Citizens, to raise public awareness and fight plans to develop the property in the initially proposed manner.
Members of the group maintain an active Facebook page, Citizens Against Plan for Eva Mar Development. The page has been "liked" 425 times since it was established in late November 2013.
The withdrawal of the plans was announced on that Facebook page, and pictures were posted of "Withdrawn" decals placed on signs posted by county Planning and Zoning staff to alert residents to the upcoming DAC meeting.
At least two of those signs were posted along the edges of the Eva-Mar property with the "Withdrawn" decals on them.
The concept plan filed with the Department of Planning and Zoning showed the retirement community, which included multiple buildings for apartments, "villas" and a nursing care center, on the north end of the property, adjacent to Tudor Manor, and the homes spread along the western, southern and eastern portions of the land.
Access would be from Route 543 in the west and from Cloverfield Court in the east. Cloverfield, which is part of Fox Chase, is a short residential drive which ends at the property line. The street would be extended to accommodate the new homes.
One of the signs with the "Withdrawn" decal was at the dead end of Cloverfield, partially obscured by a pile of snow.
Snee said he expected to receive the revised concept plan next week; it would then be distributed to nearby residents and community leaders.
A second community input meeting is planned for late February; a date must still be scheduled, Snee said.
Bill Onorato, a Tudor Manor resident who is among those who have organized to fight the plans, said the response to the withdrawal is "cautiously optimistic, skeptical maybe, we're just not sure what to make of it."
"I think we're cautiously optimistic but skeptical at the same time, and I don't think any of us are declaring victory," he said. " What we're doing now is gearing ourselves up for the next fight."
Residents have spoken out against three zoning-related bills that were passed by the County Council in the fall of 2013 to make small changes to the zoning code which residents felt would make the code more favorable to the CCRC project.
That issue, along with Snee's professional relationship with Harford County Executive David Craig, who introduced Bills 13-35, 13-36 and 13-37 to the council, came up at the community input meeting.
County officials denied those bills or Snee and Craig's relationship had anything to do with the project, and stressed a retirement community has been a desired economic development project for years.
A petition to have those bills repealed has been set up online at http://www.change.org. It is titled "Repeal Zoning Bills 13-35/36/37, Extend Referendum Deadlines."