Retirement community, houses planned for 152 acres near Bel Air

A continuing care retirement community with as many as 700 living units and another 120-160 single family homes are being proposed for what is one the few large undeveloped properties left on the east side of Bel Air.

According to a concept plan filed with the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning, the continuing care retirement community will be affiliated with Presbyterian Home of Maryland, a Towson-based nonprofit that abandoned a similar venture planned in Aberdeen two years ago, following an acrimonious fight with city officials over tax breaks the company wanted.

A community input meeting on the project will be held Monday, Dec. 9, at 6 p.m. at Southampton Middle School at 1200 Moores Mill Road in Bel Air. Such meetings are required by the county before any plans are formally filed for review and approval.

The 152-acre site, referred to on the plan as the Eva-Mar property, fronts along the east side of Route 543 (Fountain Green Road), about 600 feet north of the intersection with Route 22 (Churchville Road), considered one of the more congested in the county.

The property is bordered by Amyclae Drive and the Amyclae East development on the south and west, by the county-owned public works facility (formerly owned by BGE) on the north and by the Tudor Manor community on the north and west.

The property, whose address is 301 N. Fountain Green Road, is a mile south on Route 543 from the 1,400-student C. Milton Wright High School.

Project components

The continuing care retirement community, or CCRC, would be developed on the northwest third of the property and, according to the concept plan, would be restricted to people age 60 and older.

The plan for the CCRC envisions building 656 living units developed in two phases: the first consisting of 168 independent living apartments, 20 assisted living apartments and 20 skilled nursing apartments - 208 total, with the second phase consisting of 26 independent living villas, 382 independent living apartments and 20 more assisted living and 20 more skilled nursing apartments - 448 total.

The plan also notes that up to another 44 independent living apartments could be built "with smaller lot sizes," which would bring the total living units to 700.

Amenities envisioned for the CCRC's 36,000 square foot community center include a common dining room, private dining room, bistro/bar, living room, exercise room, game room, library/business center, beauty shop, general store, post office and bank, plus administrative offices. Future expansion could include a wellness center and chapel. A 2,700 square foot maintenance building is also planned.

According to the concept plan, the CCRC will occupy 58.5 acres and the 120 single family homes, the latter to be developed by "others," will occupy 94 acres.

The property is zoned for R1 low density residential development. The plan, however, also notes a county code provision for an R2 natural resources district "bump up" of up to 169 units, based on the presence of more than eight acres of wetlands and streams through the property that would be preserved.

Access to both the housing development and the CCRC would be via a main drive built into the property from Route 543. The concept plan, however, also shows a possible link to Fallstaff Drive in Tudor Manor.

According to the state property tax database, the Eva-Mar property is under the control of two trustees with an address in Peach Bottom, Pa.

The developer is represented by the Bel Air law firm Snee, Mahoney, Lutche & Hemlinger, Pa., the same firm that represented Presbyterian Home on its aborted CCRC project in Aberdeen. Leigh Shotto, who is listed as the law firm's contact on the proposal, could not be reached Friday for comment.

In May, Presbyterian Home of Maryland filed a disclosure statement in which Joseph Snee, a principal partner in the law firm, is listed as a Presbyterian Home director. The statement also says Presbyterian Home is not affiliated with the Presbyterian Church but is, however, recognized as a "mission" by the church.

Aberdeen controversy

During the period of 2007-2011, Presbyterian Home of Maryland planned to develop a continuing care retirement community, called Village of Carsins Run, on 138 acres the company acquired off of Route 22 and Long Drive, near Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.

The property was annexed into the City of Aberdeen, giving the developer access to city-owned water and sewer facilities. Presbyterian Home agreed to pay for the extension of utilities to and through its property and to construct a water storage tank. In exchange, the company wanted significant property tax forgiveness from both Harford County and the city.

In 2008, the Maryland General Assembly passed a Harford County bill providing for such tax breaks to not-for-profit developers of CCRCs, subject to approval of the local government body.

While Aberdeen city officials were initially receptive to the tax break for the Village of Carsins Run, they backed away from the deal when they realized how much revenue the city would be giving up, saying the city couldn't afford it. The community's entry fee was to be set in the $200,000 to $250,000 range, according to a prospectus and other statements from the company.

Despite intense lobbying by Presbyterian Home in Bel Air and Annapolis, Aberdeen's mayor and council held firm. After a bill was killed in the 2011 Maryland General Assembly session that tied a proposed Harford County hotel room tax to the tax break for the Village of Carsins Run project, Presbyterian Home announced it was abandoning the venture and putting its property for up sale.

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