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Harford County

Plan for Red Pump townhouses draws fire at community meeting

Traffic, environmental degradation, property damage and diminished home values were among the litany of issues raised by about 40 people who attended a community input meeting Monday on a proposal to build up to 46 townhouses on a narrow property off Red Pump Road north of Bel Air.

The development, called Red Pump Crescent, is planned on about 10.3 acres off the 300 block of Red Pump Road, not far from Red Pump Elementary School and in an area that several neighborhood residents said is already saturated with housing - and traffic.

Representatives of the developer, DeChairo Properties of Towson, got an earful from the group about how the development wouldn't be compatible with their neighborhoods.

"To put 40-some townhouses on less than 10 acres in the middle of a single family community makes no sense whatsoever," said William Grabau, who lives in the 300 block of Red Pump Road, across from the development site. "It makes no sense to put this in an established single family community."

Many of the more than 20 residents who spoke during the hour and 15-minute meeting said they have lived in their homes 20, 30, more than 40 years in some cases.

"If you put this in, I won't be able to sell my house," Bruce Butz, whose home would be directly across from the road serving the new development, said.

Some of those at Monday's meeting said they had attended prior community meetings and have witnessed various plans that have been proposed for the Red Pump Crescent site going back a decade or more.

A somewhat similar townhouse development plan was put forth in 2012 but had since been revised several times prior to Monday's session, explained Lou Schaffer, of the engineering firm Frederick Ward Associates, who moderated the meeting.

Schaffer explained another 1.2 acres was recently added to plan through the acquisition of another existing home on Red Pump Road. That purchase will permit the developer to put five more units on the larger site, plus a sixth, depending if one of the three existing homes that were acquired is kept or razed.

It also means the entrance to the 180-foot long, 24-foot wide road that will serve all the townhouses was moved several feet to the south on Red Pump, right in front of Butz's home, as he had noted.

The latest plan shows the 24-foot wide, three level townhouses with two-car garages at grade, will be grouped in clusters of three, four or five units, and have been moved back considerably from Red Pump Road than some earlier plans had shown.

Traffic, rocks, drainage

Despite those changes, concerns about traffic and drainage, as well as the questions about the topography of the site, were persistently raised.

Schaffer conceded there are issues with traffic on Red Pump and nearby neighborhood roads.

He said the engineers went to Harford County inquiring about installing speed humps or other traffic calming devices or lowering the speed limit to 25 mph from 30 mph, "but the county would not do it" because of Red Pump's collector road classification.

"We made it the safest we can make it," Schaffer said. "It's the best we can do."

He also said the engineers are aware of the large amount of rock that was blasted and carried away from the adjoining Blake's Legacy development of 110 single family homes that has been under construction the past two years, saying every effort would be made not to make such deep cuts where the townhouses are built.

That was not exactly reassuring, however, as one man said he had never experienced water in his basement until the past two years coincidental to the blasting at Blake's Legacy, while another warned Schaffer that lawsuits would be filed if his basement should start to leak following any blasting on the Red Pump Crescent property. A third talked about the possibility of class action suits against the developer and anyone working for them if there is damage to nearby homes.

Schaffer said they had not taken soil borings on the property yet and won't until they have met with the county to determine the location of the stormwater management structures.

The entire west side of the property is non-tidal wetlands and another wetland area, that serves as natural drainage from north to south, runs across the middle of the property.

Buffers, landscaping, schools

Several speakers asked what type of buffers, both vegetative and fences, would be put up to screen their properties from the townhouses. Schaffer said those are still in the planning stage, as is overall landscaping, but also he said the engineers would do their best to keep as much as the existing woodlands on the site as possible.

One resident asked if anyone from Blake's Legacy, the newest development in the neighborhood, was present. Nobody replied. Some of the proposed townhouses will be adjacent to a cul-de-sac of about a dozen single family homes in Blake's Legacy, still to be built, where models are priced in the $400,000 to $500,000, several people noted.

Depending upon amenities, the townhouses in Red Pump Crescent will sell in the low to high $300,000 range, another representative of the developer said. Schaffer estimated the houses will be sold at "market rates;" there will be no subsidized units.

Based on current school boundaries, children in the new development will attend Forest Lakes Elementary, where they will have to ride buses, as opposed to walking to Red Pump Elementary, which is about seven-tenths of a mile away. The secondary school children will attend Bel Air Middle and Bel Air High schools.

Schaffer said the developer has no control over school boundaries. One resident noted a school bus won't be able to drive up the development's 24-foot wide road, so children will have to wait for their buses to stop on Red Pump on a hill with bad sight lines.

Schaffer said they had engineered the turnaround at the end of the development to accommodate a school bus and were talking with the county about the width issue.

Similar concerns were expressed about fire equipment being able to get into the community and out again.

Phillip Hohman, who lives on Red Pump and said he drives for the school system and also drives a fire truck, said a turn-in would be needed where the development road meets Red Pump.

"A fire engine can't get in there," Hohman said of a straight right angle turn. Schaffer, however, said county regulations would not permit a T-type turn-in.

More traffic

Fred Stainbrook, who also lives on Red Pump, said too many vehicles already use Red Pump to the point where people can't get in and out of their driveways safely.

"It's ridiculous," he said, questioning if county regulations will permit the intersection with the development road to be at a downslope on Red Pump.

Stan Rote, who has lived on Forest Valley Drive west of the site since 1970, said all the streets in the area are congested and people seldom drive the speed limit. He likened Red Pump Road to a "four-lane" highway and called the proposed development "an abortion."

Some of those present wondered why their county councilman, Jim McMahan, did not attend the meeting, after having attended the previous input meeting in 2012. Several people said the entire county council was to blame for the site's R2 zoning that will permit the townhouses.

Schaffer said the next step for the developer will be to refine the plan and submit it for a county Development Advisory Committee review, which he said could come as early as mid-April.

He estimated development of the site – grading, stormwater management, road, water and sewer construction – would take a minimum of a year. The build-out of the homes, which will start with the groups closest to Red Pump Road, will depend on market conditions, he added.

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