Residents protest plan for small shopping center at Old Joppa Road and Route 1

Residents protested plans for a small shopping center and office strip planned on Baltimore Pike at Old Joppa Road near Bel Air during a community input hearing in Fallston Wednesday night.

The 25,000-square-foot retail-and-office project is the latest in a string of recent developments set in motion by Michael Euler, who is also developing the Aumar Village Shopping Center at Route 1 and Mountain Road in Fallston.

The new project, to be called Bell Gate Center, follows on the heels of an input meeting Tuesday night for yet another Euler project for three retail buildings on Route 1 at Milton Avenue, across from Royal Farms in Fallston.

Bell Gate would have an office building and three retail buildings, one of which is slated for fast food, fronting Route 1 and with an additional exit onto Old Joppa.

The roughly 20 residents who came to the Bell Gate Center hearing brought up those projects, as well as the 258 apartments another developer is planning for part of the nearby historic Mt. Soma Farm, on land currently owned by Euler.

Those who spoke at Wednesday meeting said traffic would be simply overwhelming and the Fallston area could not deal with so much new development in a short span of time.

They also warned the traffic from development planned around the Old Joppa and Route 1 intersection would have a ripple effect over a much wider area. One resident noted people already cut through Aumar Village to beat tie-ups at Routes 1 and 152..

Some wondered why new commercial strips need to be built when some existing ones, such the commercial park by Bill Bateman's and the strip with Dunkin' Donuts and Italian Sensation near Route 152, have mostly empty parking lots.

Josh Pons, of Country Life Farm, got a round of applause for warning the Old Joppa Road project would be a disaster for the area. The horse farm is right across Old Joppa Road from the Bell Gate site.

Pons said he appreciated that Euler changed the project's name from "Country Life" to Bell Gate Center and that Euler "understood our concerns."

But Euler declined to change the concept, Pons said.

"I am of the opinion of everyone else in this room that this is too much on too little," Pons said. "We will be prisoners in our own hard-fought, hard-bought, tax-earned homes."

Pons noted it was the last undeveloped parcel along Route 1 and called the project "all bad."

"The greed and avarice of the developers in this area has got to be checked," he said.

Grace Gangler also got applause for saying every time residents hear about a project, it has already been approved.

"It's just too much. I think we are all overwhelmed, Fallston is completely overwhelmed with what Mr. Euler is doing," she said. "We don't know where to start to fight it."

Tina Matthews said many of the residents in attendance live in the area behind the proposed shopping center.

"I am just really afraid that Old Joppa Road is going to be a highway," she said. "It's already so much traffic at that four-way stop sign at Whitaker Mill Road [and Old Joppa]. Who is to say [drivers] are not going to start using our neighborhood as a cut-through?"

Gloria Moon, a Joppa resident involved said the county told her they expect Euler's Milton Avenue project to add 968 more car trips daily, the apartment complex to add 1,626 trips and the Bell Gate project to add 1,300 trips. Moon is a member of the Joppa Community Council and the Little Gunpowder Improvement Association.

David Taylor, an engineer for the project, clarified that the plan was still just a proposal and no traffic studies have been done.

He said the developer would be required to meet traffic guidelines set by the county before the project could go forward.

Taylor also said the property does extend farther south along Route 1 but that piece of it is in conservation.

After Taylor said he grew up in Harford County and attended Bel Air schools, some residents urged him to help preserve the county, "as a Harford County boy."

Taylor noted the population continues to grow and the county is now "a county of people of a lot of different backgrounds, from a lot of different destinations."

"I grew up here. I have seen the changes," he said.

He explained he was not the engineer for any of Euler's other projects and did not know much about them.

"Obviously we are going through quite a few changes, and we have been for a few years in Harford County," he said, promising to convey the residents' views to Euler.

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