James Run retail/office project near Bel Air will have public hearing Oct. 16

After years of expectations for a mixed-use office and retail development on the site of a former golf and recreation area near the Route 543 and I-95 interchange southeast of Bel Air, something is finally moving forward.

Developers identified as 95-543 LLC and Bren Mar 1 LLC are planning the James Run Corporate Campus in the southwest of the interchange in the Creswell/Harford Furnace area. The 111-acre site covers the old Bren Mar Park, whose former nine-hole golf course was one of Harford's oldest.

The James Run project drew attention at a recent Harford County Council meeting because of the developers' request of tax-increment financing, or TIF, from the county.

Under the proposal, the county would issue up to $23 million in special obligation bonds, at a maximum interest rate of 9 percent annually, to finance or reimburse the project.

A hearing on the TIF legislation for James Run will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, in the county council chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air.

Some local residents with ties to the TEA Party movement oppose the James Run TIF. The county has done one previous TIF for the financing of the Beechtree Estates residential development near Aberdeen, and that received similar opposition.

Harford Economic Development Director Jim Richardson has said any new development will be good for the county. The development is aimed at businesses and people coming to the area because of base realignment, or BRAC.

Kevin Carney, one of the developers, said at a July development advisory committee meeting that James Run's two-phased plan had substituted a "lodging house," with almost 700 guest rooms and a clubhouse with a pool, fitness center, lounge, billiard room and business center on 14 acres, for previously planned retail.

Residents at the DAC meeting complained about a lodging house being part of the development, saying conceptual plans originally shown to the community did not include a residential component.

Several of the residents pressed the developers and county officials for an explanation of what constitutes a lodging house and were essentially told it amounts to extended stay residences for business people and workers temporarily assigned to Aberdeen Proving Ground or local defense contractors.

The county council has passed legislation detailing specific amenities for such facilities.

Under plans Richardson's office made available this week, James Run could ultimately feature 1.5 million square feet of development, including 1.1 million square feet of office space, 254,000 square feet of retail and 120,000 square feet for lodging.

With the TIF, the county would levy a special tax each year to provide funds to pay the debt service on the development bonds.

The project would include road improvements at Routes 543 and 136, Route 7 and Abingdon Road, Routes 7 and 543, the off-ramp from Route 543 to I-95 and Route 7 and Stepney Road.

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