Advocates, possible foes prepare for Jan. 6 meeting on Bel Air retirement community

Advocates for and against plans to build a retirement community and an adjoining housing development on 152.5 acres east of Bel Air have been working to put out as much information as possible in advance of a community input meeting scheduled for Jan. 6.

The land, which is at the intersection of Route 543 [North Fountain Green Road] and Amyclae Drive, is zoned R1-residential and is known as the Eva-Mar property. The site is surrounded by housing developments, such as Tudor Manor and Amyclae East, as well as a Harford County public works facility.

It is about 600 feet north of the intersection of Route 543 and Route 22 [East Churchville Road] and about one mile south of C. Milton Wright High School, which has 1,400 students.

The community meeting was initially scheduled for Dec. 9 but was postponed because of snow. It will be held at 6 p.m. in Southampton Middle School at 1200 Moores Mill Road in Bel Air, according to the Harford County Department of Planning & Zoning's website. (The meeting will be held Thursday, Jan. 9, at 6 p.m., if there is inclement weather.)

Developers have submitted plans to the Harford County planning department that call for building a Continuing Care Retirement Community of about 700 units, along with at least 120 single-family homes.

The retirement community would be affiliated with Presbyterian Home of Maryland, a faith-based nonprofit organization headquartered in Towson, which operates a retirement community in Towson.

The proposed Harford County CCRC would be built on a 58.5-acre portion of the property, and the houses will be built on the remaining 94 acres, according to the initial plans posted on the planning and zoning website.

People who live in the developments around the Eva-Mar property have expressed concerns about impacts to property values, and increased traffic along an already well-traveled corridor.

Residents have banded together to express their opposition; the group 543 Concerned Citizens has established a Facebook page, Citizens Against Plan for Eva-Mar Development and a website, .

The Facebook page has attracted 150 likes since it was established Nov. 27, and the website has been viewed 7,447 times as of Monday.

Visitors to the Facebook page and website can submit their concerns to either site.

"We have to get the word out because this is going to have a wide impact on the area, not just the people who are bordering the farm," said Bill Onorato, a Tudor Manor resident.

Onorato, an attorney, is one of about 20 neighbors working to inform the public about the development.

He said Monday that members of the group, including attorneys, an individual who works for Montgomery County's planning department and people involved in web development, have "reached out" to homeowners' associations in surrounding communities.

"We're getting feedback from all over the area about concerns for this plan," he said.

Onorato said residents expected that the Eva-Mar property would be developed eventually, but they want it to be done properly, particularly as nearby Harford Community College expands and nearly 150 homes are planned off of Thomas Run Road, Prospect Mill Road and Route 543, according to county planning and zoning data cited on the group's Facebook page.

"We recognize that it's inevitable that the farm is going to get developed," he said. "We just want it to be done in a way that protects our property value and addresses these traffic and safety concerns."

Bel Air attorney Joseph Snee is representing Presbyterian Home, as he did two years ago when the organization sought approval from the City of Aberdeen to build a retirement community on 138 acres near Ripken Stadium that was annexed by the city.

Snee is a principal partner with the Bel Air firm of Snee, Mahoney, Lutche & Helmlinger PA and a Presbyterian Home board member.

The developers also sought tax relief from Aberdeen and Harford County for their initial project, but it has not yet been made clear whether they will seek tax relief for the Bel Air project.

"We have not yet finalized our financing decisions and do not expect to do so until our financial models are complete," Presbyterian Home officials said in a news release issued Monday.

The news release includes a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the project and the accompanying answers.

Snee said Tuesday that "it's just way too early to say" whether or not developers would seek tax incentives.

"The economics of Aberdeen were unique to Aberdeen and we're just beginning the process here," he explained.

Snee, who in December said the Bel Air project would be "substantially the same concept" as the one in Aberdeen, noted the Bel Air project will not require construction of a 2.4 million-gallon water tower, which was proposed for the Aberdeen project.

"To suggest that we need them or don't need them would be pure speculation at this point," he said of tax incentives.

Snee said that he, Presbyterian Home President and CEO Sue Shea, Paul Muddiman of the Abingdon engineering firm Morris & Ritchie Associates, as well as Michael Charlton of Elm Street Development, have been meeting with community leaders.

Elm Street Development, headquartered in McLean, Va., will be developing the 120 homes, he said.

Snee said residents have sought information, "and we've responded and we'll continue to make ourselves available."

The FAQ issued by Presbyterian Home contains answers to questions about traffic, noise, the proximity of the retirement community to existing homes, as well as zoning, the density, economic impact and the fees charged to CCRC residents.

The proposed residential entry fees for the company's Aberdeen development would have ranged from $200,000 to $250,000.

Presbyterian Home officials stated in their FAQ that fees had not been determined yet for the Bel Air development.

"While we have not yet finalized pricing, it is our goal to make our new community affordable for as many people as possible. Entrance fees will be based on the market value of other homes in the area, while monthly fees are dependent on operational costs."

"Ultimately, Presbyterian Home of Maryland is committed to being a good neighbor," Shea wrote in a Dec. 5 letter to The Aegis. "Throughout the process, we have taken the time to meet personally and regularly with area community associations and will continue to do so."

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