New James Run corporate project includes more retail, less office space

Although plans for the James Run Corporate Campus project were approved by Harford County officials – and the members of the County Council narrowly voted in favor of a controversial Tax Increment Financing plan to provide financial support – late last year, changes to the site plan have the developer going through the approval process from the beginning.

Representatives of The Peterson Cos. of Fairfax, Va., the developer of the 111-acre property just northwest of the junction of Route 543 and I-95 in the Belcamp area, as well as their attorney, Joseph Snee of Bel Air, and civil engineering firm Morris & Ritchie Associates, hosted a community input meeting Monday evening at the Morris & Ritchie's Abingdon office.

The developer plans to build a massive combined residential, commercial and retail development on the site, which is zoned for mixed office use.

"This project is much different than every other project in the county... it is a place to live, a place to work and a place to shop, all in one," Paul Muddiman, principal of Morris & Ritchie in Abingdon, told the residents who gathered for the meeting.

He added: "You don't have that anywhere else in this county, unless you live in downtown Bel Air."

The initial plan included 540,000 square feet of office space, at least 300,000 square feet of retail and several hundred housing units which made up a "lodging" area, according to prior reports in The Aegis.

Conceptual renderings presented Monday showed a large increase in the amount of retail and restaurant space and a redesign of the layout of the retail area, plus a decrease in the amount of office space.

"This is Peterson's redesign," Snee said of the developer after the meeting.

The changed plans must next be reviewed by Harford County's Development Advisory Committee. Snee said the residential portion has not changed, and has met the approval process, but the new office and retail sections must be re-approved.

If the county approves the revised plan, Muddiman told the audience infrastructure improvements, including widening of Route 543 to accommodate increased traffic and other road improvements, plus bringing in water and sewer, would begin this year, and construction of buildings could start in 2014, depending "on the market conditions."

The county council voted 4-3 in November in favor of tax increment financing to raise $23 million in special obligation bonds, with a maximum annual interest rate of 9 percent, The Aegis reported at the time.

The meeting Monday drew residents from the vicinity of the project area and other parts of the county.

Alan Sweatman, a resident of Havre de Grace and a member of the Friends of Harford advocacy group, expressed concerns about "shopping mall blight," citing the large number of shopping centers in the Abingdon area and also in nearby Aberdeen.

Morita Bruce, head of Friends of Harford who stressed she was speaking as a private citizen, called TIF "a government handout that other businesses don't get."

Floria Svitak, who resides near the site in the community of Bush, south of I-95, said county residents and county officials had approved mixed office zoning during the 1990s in the hopes the site in question would become home to companies which would provide well-paying jobs to Harford County residents.

"What we really never wanted was retail and housing," he said. "We were tying to get a work center, a place where people could get good salaries, good jobs."

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