After several postponements since last year, attorneys for a developer seeking to build a 198-unit apartment complex at the southwest corner of Plumtree Road and Route 24 and the residents of the community adjacent to the proposed building site who are opposed to the development are in the thick of an appeals process before a Harford County hearing examiner.
The appeals process is scheduled to take place on three evenings over three weeks. Testimony by experts for applicant Evergreen Business Trust began Feb. 13.
The second evening, which also featured testimony in favor of the applicant, took place over nearly three hours Wednesday evening before Zoning Hearing Examiner Robert K. Kahoe Jr. in the chambers of the Harford County Council in Bel Air.
The opposing parties will be able to present their cases, and representatives of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning will present the department's assessment of the applicant's proposal during the final night of testimony, scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 27.
On Wednesday, attorney Robert Lynch of Bel Air represented the applicant; opposing parties were represented by Harford County People's Counsel Brian Young and attorney Sebastian Cross.
The apartments will be developed by Peak Management, which has a contract to buy the site. Evergreen also has a contract to sell land it owns on the east side of Route 24, across from the proposed apartment site, to Walmart, which wants to build a new store there.
Testimony during Wednesday's hearing came from Rowan Glidden, vice president and director of land planning at George William Stephens Jr. & Associates Inc. of Forest Hill; architect Timothy Wentz of Gate 17 Architecture LLC of Malvern, Pa., who designed the apartment buildings; and traffic engineer Kenneth Schmid, vice president of Traffic Concepts Inc. of Gambrills.
Developers initially received county approval in 1992 to build the apartment complex, but the site plans have since been withdrawn, and a new application submitted to allow for greater density within the 17.54-acre site and include greater protections for the county's nearby Natural Resource District, as well as more available open space and recreational amenities, Lynch said Thursday.
"It's a much, much better design," Lynch said.
Glidden, whose firm put together the site plan, testified about how the site plan complied with county codes, and how the locations of a proposed walking trail and stormwater management facilities have been adjusted to lessen the impact on the Natural Resources District, referred to as NRD.
"We were able to reduce the area disturbed within the NRD," Glidden said.
If approved, the apartment complex will be constructed between Route 24 on the east side, Plumtree Road on the north, Bel Air South Parkway and existing shopping and dining areas in the Bel Air South Professional Center to the south, and an extended Tollgate Road to the west.
Tollgate ends in the Professional Center, and picks up again at Plumtree Road. The final portion of Tollgate – which the applicants noted has been in Harford County's master plan for 30 years – would be built to serve the apartment complex.
Glidden noted drivers often use the nearby residential roads of Cypress Drive and Deadora Road as cut-throughs to avoid Route 24.
"By being able to install this section of Tollgate Road, that traffic should be pulled back to where it belongs, on that collector road," he said.
Wentz discussed how the exteriors and interiors of the apartment buildings, as well as the clubhouse and other facilities on the property, were designed.
He said the designs incorporate apartment dwellers' desires for larger units as more families turn away from single-family homes.
Schmid testified about proposed improvements to surrounding roads and intersections to mitigate the traffic impact of so many new residents.
"You basically have to mitigate your impact," Schmid said after the hearing. "You're required to make it better than it is with your traffic, than without your traffic."
Once testimony concludes next week, Kahoe has up to 30 days to present a written opinion to the Harford County Council, which sits as the Board of Appeals in zoning cases, Dottie Smith, zoning hearing assistant for the county, said.
Parties on either side can also file appeals to the hearing examiner's decision.
Smith said the council has five options regarding the hearing examiner's decision: members can uphold the decision, overturn it, modify it, remand it back for additional testimony or do nothing, which results in an automatic denial.