When developer Michael Euler Sr. sought to build an RV park at the intersection of Routes 1 and 152 near the Aumar Village Shopping Center, he was met with strong opposition from Fallston residents.
So, he backed off from the idea and now plans to build an indoor athletic facility geared toward local youth on the property, which he owns in addition to the land where the shopping center sits.
To build the facility, Euler hopes to get the county to change the zoning law to allow him to build the facility, being referred to as a fieldhouse, on the agriculture-zoned property. Only golf, tennis, swim or country clubs are allowed to be built on agriculturally zoned land.
A fieldhouse is defined in the proposed bill as "A building(s) large enough to encompass a regulation athletic field usually providing seats for spectators, adjacent to an athletic facility where athletes prepare for sport and providing fitness, health and training equipment."
The Harford County Council has scheduled a public hearing for the proposed zoning change on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. If the legislation, sponsored by Councilman Joe Woods, of Fallston, passes, Euler would then file for a special zoning exception to build the facility. The council would have the final decision on the exception in its capacity as the Board of Zoning Appeals.
The proposed zoning change faces opposition from Fallston residents.
At the Fallston Community Council meeting May 28, Fallston residents expressed concern that the new zoning language would have far reaching implications, making it possible to build athletic facilities on agricultural land anywhere in the county. People also said they were concerned the facility would increase traffic and strain, if not overload, the surrounding roads.
Because of the opposition, Euler has retained the services of the Fallston Group LLC, a company that handles crisis management and media relations, to help with the image of the project and improve the dialogue between himself and Fallston residents.
Robert Weinhold Jr., principal of the Fallston Group and a Fallston resident, said he reached out to Euler in February after Euler abandoned the RV park plan, and helped broker a meeting between Euler and some local people at the group's Bel Air offices. During that meeting, Weinhold suggested that Euler pursue building an "athletic center of excellence."
"There's no question that Harford County's athletic infrastructure does not ultimately support the many athletes and their families that we have in a growing county," Weinhold said Wednesday. "I felt that there was enough acreage there to where I just talked about the concept of having this athletic center of excellence."
Weinhold said Euler and the community members at this meeting "seemed to gravitate" toward the idea.
"I think all of us collectively want to do the right things for the right reasons for the communities we live in and support young people that have a desire to just recreate or play at a higher level," Weinhold said.
After the meeting, Euler went to the Fallston Group and asked for assistance in communicating this project to stakeholders in the community, Weinhold said.
Euler then approached Forest Hill-based surveyors Bay State Land Services, which drew up a site plan for the athletic facility. It includes plans by Euler to build homes on property on Harford Road bordering the athletic facility.
A rendering of the fieldhouse was also prepared. Weinhold said the facility would likely include a turf field suitable for any number of activities, including lacrosse, soccer, basketball and dodge ball, among others.
"One of the elements that's extremely important to the developer and to everyone involved [is] that any type of structure that would be built would really have the look and feel of the community that it represents, Harford County," Weinhold said. "So, this rendering is what we believe that ultimately this type of facility should look like."
Weinhold said that assuming all goes well with the zoning changes, community approval and government permits, the next step would be to approach investors before putting anything on the ground. He estimated this would be at least a few years before a complex would become operational.
Any costs associated with the project would be determined by how the process goes and what the facility ends up becoming, Weinhold said. He noted that Euler had not received any inquiries from anyone interested in investing, but it is still early in the process.
"The process is as important as the outcome," Weinhold said. "It is very important to be transparent, inclusive and responsive to stakeholder concern, so that ultimately an asset can be developed that the entire community embraces."
"Once the approval is given to move forward with a project like this, we would move forward with a project like this, we would move forward to identify an investment team," Weinhold added. "There are many people who believe in a project like this. It's a matter of finding the investment team and operators so that the right business modeling can occur."
Weinhold acknowledged the issue of the proposed zoning language changes impacting the county at large in addition to the Aumar Village property, but said he's confident the council's efforts would strike the right balance.
"We're now hopeful that Harford County Council will consider the language and help craft zoning language that would afford all of us the opportunity to proceed with this development, but simultaneously protect the open space and land in Harford County, which we all agree with," Weinhold said.
"It is very important to the developer, Mike Euler, that he is responsive to the community in which he lives, he is transparent in process and is able to enable the community to secure an athletic asset which it sorely needs to support young people," Weinhold said.