A community meeting about a contentious proposal to build an athletic facility in Fallston drew about 90 people Wednesday evening, filling the Fallston Volunteer Fire Company's banquet hall.
Most of the complaints were not about the facility itself, but whether the area can withstand the added traffic the fieldhouse would generate.
"I have nothing against the concept of a facility. My problem is with its location and the impact that will bring," Morita Bruce, a member of the Fallston Community Council and president of the land preservation group Friends of Harford, said.
Rob Wienhold of the Fallston Group, a consulting firm, told those at the meeting he became involved in the project at the beginning in this year after hearing of developer Mike Euler's earlier plan to build an RV park or storage facility on the property, off the 200 block of Mountain Road (Route 152).
Hearing that no one had reached out to Euler, Weinhold met with the developer and said "the concept of an athletic facility arose." To address interest in the project, Euler sought to hold a community meeting, Weinhold said.
"Mike felt it was a good idea to go ahead and have a community meeting tonight for a couple of reasons: No. 1 is to brief you on the status of the project and where it sits tonight, another would be to answer any questions you have about traffic and the site plan, and also make sure that this meeting was one of complete transparency," Weinhold said.
Euler then addressed the audience regarding the project.
"The area that we're talking about on this part of the property most people have never seen, unless you were invited on the property by the family members or perhaps just stumbled across it by accident because it really lies against the power line in an area that is completely surrounded by trees," Euler said.
"That's why I thought it would've made a great park for RVs, but the neighborhood kind of thought a little different," Euler added. "So we sat down with them; asked them, 'If you don't want that, what do you want, so I don't have to continue go through this.' "
Euler said he didn't even know there was a need for an athletic facility in Fallston.
"I'm not the most athletic person in the world, so I didn't even know that these kind of things were needed," Euler said. "Little did I know my daughter's going up to the Arena Club [in Churchville] for training that this facility could provide."
The vision for the facility would be for it to have a membership structure, with members able to hire coaches, and certain sports teams were already looking to rent the facility.
"There's nothing like this in the county, I'm not sure that Baltimore County has, with the exception of The Castle, a full indoor football field with a swimming pool on one end," Euler said, referring to the Baltimore Ravens facility. Euler added this all fits under the county's designated zoning of a country club.
Regarding his efforts to bring a grocery store to the nearby Aumar Village Shopping Center, Euler said negotiations are ongoing. Euler said he is proud of his work in the area he's lived within five miles of his entire life.
"I'm not trying to do anything that's adverse to what everybody wants to see as well," Euler added.
'Like a jigsaw puzzle'
Mitch Ensor from Bay State Land Services spoke about the site plan for the facility.
"In a workgroup session, we sat around and thought about what type of improvements we wanted to put together, and, basically like a jigsaw puzzle, put together what the land would support with what uses we were trying to propose and tried to work them in as harmoniously as we could with the property," Ensor said.
He noted the zoning of the property, that it would not impact wetlands or buffers and that it would result in a small amount of forest clearing, which they would be required to minimize by code. He also said improvements to the land would work with its existing slopes.
In regard to road accesses and how they would impact traffic, Ensor cautioned that it was very early in the process, and input from the county, traffic studies and the State Highway Administration would have a big impact.
"We are not the sole determination factor on where we want to access," Ensor said. "We in essence will be told where we can access and how we want that access to look. But, safety is the main concern."
Ensor said the facility requires input from the community.
"We want it to be custom to this community, custom to what this community wants and make it work for you," Ensor added. He told a personal story about trying to reserve athletic fields as board member for a lacrosse program, only to be told he couldn't reserve the fields even eight months in advance.
"I think that shows that there's a need this type of facility here, and I tell you what, I'd be one of the ones putting my name on the list for our program trying to get in," Ensor said. "I think it's a very unique opportunity that this community has to put this type of facility in their backyard and be very proud of what they've done."
Ken Smead from Traffic Concepts, a traffic engineering consulting firm, spoke about traffic studies and approval processes, noting that the greatest traffic impact would likely be on weekends, with some impact on weekday afternoons and evenings.
"It's a free and open process, and I think the way Mike's handling this project today, we'd be more than willing to open up and show the results of the [traffic] study and how we did it, and get more details once we do it. But we haven't done anything yet," Smead said, adding that it is still early.
Community feedback to Euler was mainly negative, with residents taking issue with increased traffic.
Bruce, from the Fallston council, thanked the panelists for coming, but was not pleased with Euler's proposal to change zoning regulations.
"I've been told it is not a country club; that the official use will be classified as commercial amusement and recreation, and that is not something that can be done on agriculturally zoned land, which this is," Bruce said. She said other sports facilities in the county, like the Arena Club in Churchville, are not on agriculturally zoned land, and that this area would not be able to handle traffic.
Euler replied that he was not making a threat, but he was taking the path of least resistance and could still build an RV park with a special exemption, which drew worried murmurs from the audience.
Rick Decker, who said he was a longtime resident of Fallston, thanked everyone on the panel for coming and asked about the state traffic study, which Smead said they would coordinate with, provided that it was completed in a timely manner. Smead noted the facility is along the edge of the development envelope.
"The State Highway Administration responds to developers in many ways better than they do residents," Decker said. He urged the panel to "put your weight against the State Highway Administration" to help the study get completed, which would be beneficial to residents as well as the developers of the project.
Richard Johnson, an area resident for more than 20 years with his wife, is also concerned about traffic.
"Harford Road traffic has gotten terrible," Johnson said, noting there have been many accidents over the years. "It's takes five to 10 minutes at 7 o'clock in the morning to turn right and go south."
For the facility, Johnson said "there needs to be a good access point, and I'm not sure Harford Road can support any more traffic."
"I've watched that traffic on Harford Road go progressively in the tank since we moved there 20 years ago," Johnson said.
Del. Pat McDonough, also in attendance, said he pressed for a state traffic study that he is going to check the status of.
"I don't think people are anti-growth, or anti-development for jobs, but they are concerned about these road backups," McDonough said, adding that he would support the community's decision and is available to help the development team.
Weinhold said that the point of contact for questions about the facility is Kristi Frisch of The Fallston Group, firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-420-2001.