Apartments slated for Mt. Soma property near Bel Air

The operators of Country Life Farm on Route 1 could have a number of new neighbors across the highway, if Harford County officials approve a plan to build a 258-unit apartment complex on a portion of the historic Mt. Soma Farm.

The concept site plan for developing 17.7 acres owned by Soma LLC of Fallston is scheduled to be presented to the members of the county's Development Advisory Committee June 5, according to an agenda posted on the committee's website. That session will start at 9 a.m. in the second floor conference room in the county office building at 220 S. Main St. in Bel Air.

The developer, Klein Enterprises of Owings Mills, plans to build in the 1200 block of Route 1 (Baltimore Pike) and the Bel Air Bypass. The property is south of Bel Air, at the intersection of Baltimore Pike and Old Joppa Road, and is just north of Bill Bateman's Raw Bar & Grill and the Fallston Business Park.

The property is zoned B3 for general business, a zoning classification that will also permit high density residential development. Property to the north is zoned agricultural, according to the plan, which is also posted on the committee website.

About 60 acres of the historic Mt. Soma Farm east of the development site was acquired by Harford County in the 1990s to be used for parkland. Previous plans to develop the remaining 17.7 acres have been opposed by community groups, which cited concerns about traffic and the impact on nearby Winters Run, the primary source of drinking water for the Town of Bel Air.

Those concerns have not been assuaged by the latest proposal for the site, community leaders say.

Matthew Allen, director of development for Klein Enterprises, told area residents during an April 25 community input meeting, held at the Bel Air Library, that the developers also plan to reserve some of the property for about 3,000 square feet of retail space.

Klein Enterprises is also the contract purchaser of the property. Loads of dirt have been removed from the site to supply fill for another development project of the seller, Michael Euler, of Fallston.

"Despite an unanimous vote in opposition to the plan by the local citizens, the developer is moving toward a DAC meeting in early June," Mike Pons, one of the owners of Country Life Farm, one of the state's major breeders of Thoroughbred horses, wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "Mike Euler claims that he has sold the property and that all decisions will be made by the new owner."

Ellen Pons, Mike Pons' sister-in-law, who also lives at Country Life with her husband, Josh Pons, said the county should have acquired the planned development site long ago, as she and others living in the area advocated.

"My vision is for the county to link their park property at Mt. Soma with the equestrian center and Ma and Pa Trail across under or through the [Bel Air] bypass when that is updated," she wrote in an e-mail. "They [the county] should acquire this last small piece before development to protect Winters Run water quality and have this open space for generations in the future to enjoy."

Including its portion of the Mt. Soma tract, the county government owns almost more than 500 acres between the west side of Bel Air and the east side of Fallston, acreage that includes Heavenly Waters Park and the Harford equestrian center and fairgrounds, Tollgate Park and Edgeley Grove Park, which is home to the popular Annie's Playground. The lands north of the Bel Air Bypass are connected by the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail.

Ellen Pons, a professional photographer, has produced a video that shows the proximity of the properties.

"I have no doubt the developer will bring the grade down for the construction, which means that Edgeley Grove [which sits across the bypass from Mt. Soma] will soon have apartments and retail signage as a backdrop," she added. "Another rural scape, scrapped."  

Allen, of Klein Enterprises, said the traffic signal currently at Route 1 and Old Joppa is a "blinking yellow light," and the developers are working with county and state officials to make it a "full traffic signal" with red, green and yellow lights, according to a transcript of the earlier community input meeting. Klein Enterprises is not related to the Klein family which owns the region's ShopRite supermarkets.

Access to the development would be from the Route 1 and Old Joppa Road intersection, according to Allen, who said his firm was preparing a traffic study.

The apartments would be garden apartments and interior apartments in buildings with "corridors, elevators and built-in garages," according to his comments in the transcript.

Residents of the Fallston and Bel Air areas attended the meeting, and expressed concerns about traffic and environmental impacts, and the potential for the apartments to eventually go to low-income renters, even though Allen stated the units would be rented at "market rate."

"This will be put at the top end of the Bel Air apartment community," he said of the clientele to which the apartments will be marketed.

Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this article.

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