Height of new Harford hospital could eclipse 100 feet

Havre de Grace is considering proposed changes to one of its zoning districts that would permit construction of what could be Harford County's highest building – the new hospital being planned near the I-95/Route 155 interchange to replace the existing Harford Memorial Hospital in the city's downtown.

During the most recent city council meeting on May 7, Curtis Coon, chairman of the planning commission, briefly outlined proposed changes to the mixed office employment center zoning as requested by Upper Chesapeake Health, which is proposing a mixed use complex at I-95 and Route 155, including a new hospital and medical offices.

Major changes requested include allowing the height of the hospital to be 115 feet, as opposed to 70 feet, which other buildings are limited to in the city, Coon said.

Harford County, whose zoning code does not apply inside Havre de Grace, has an 85-foot height limit, permitted for hotels in its mixed office zone, although the limit could be exceeded if the building setbacks are increased by a one-to-one ratio with the height.

Other potential changes for the Upper Chesapeake project in Havre de Grace would affect the planned hospital building's setbacks from property lines.

Upper Chesapeake Health requested there not be setback requirements for the front, rear and side yards because existing code has a 25-foot setback minimum, according to Coon.

Instead of removing the setbacks entirely, Coon said, the commission proposes allowing waivers to the side yard setback to as little as zero feet and the front and rear setbacks to as little as five feet, at the planning commission's discretion.

Upper Chesapeake also owns Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, whose hospital and medical arts buildings are the highest in the town but are nowhere near the 100-foot mark.

Taxicab, water rate ordinances

The city council also passed an updated taxicab code ordinance at the May 7 meeting, an ordinance that modifies the site plan approval process and an ordinance that modifies the subdivision code with regard to applying Harford County road standards in the city.

Part of the taxicab code update addresses fines for taxicab drivers who violate the code. When the ordinance was first introduced, former councilman Chuck Maslin appeared before the council and said he thought the fines should be stricter.

During the council meeting, his wife, Lori Maslin, also spoke, saying she had many "unpleasant" incidents with taxicabs and the misdemeanor fines in the code are too light.

The initial ordinance would fined taxi cab drivers $100 for a civil citation and another $100 for a subsequent violation. The amended version, which was approved, raised the initial fine to $250 and kept the $100 fine for a subsequent violation. It also added a maximum $500 fine upon conviction of a subsequent violation.

There was also a public hearing May 7 on the water and sewer ordinance which, if passed, will allow the city council to set water and sewer rates for a minimum of three fiscal years.

The only person to comment during the public hearing was Garrett Lyttle, another former councilman who is a member of the water and sewer commission that recommended the change. He was there to show his support for the ordinance, Lyttle said, because they had been dealing with the issue for a "long time."

Under existing law, water and sewer rates can only be set one year at a time. The commission recommended a three-year rate setting mechanism to allow the city to stabilize revenue in an effort to eliminate an existing operating deficit and to prevent such deficits from occurring in the future.

Two additional ordinances were introduced Monday, with public hearings scheduled at the next meeting coming up this Monday, May 21. One ordinance proposes tax rates for fiscal year 2013, including a real property tax rate of 58 cents per each $100 of assessed real property.

The other ordinance, if passed, would amend the water and sewer code to include provisions for backflow protection for the city's water supply.

Other actions

Representing the Arbor Day Foundation, Rod Hendricks presented the city with a flag and plaque for its 11th year as Tree City USA during the May 7 council session.

Council members recognized two local students, Matthew Hauf, of Meadowvale Elementary School, and Tara Brown, of Havre de Grace Middle School.

Mayor Wayne Dougherty postponed a third quarter financial report until this Monday's meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in city hall. Also on the agenda for Monday's meeting will be the swearing if of Bill Martin, David Glenn and Joe Smith who were elected to the council May 8. Martin will be starting his third term, while Glenn and Smith will be starting their first terms.

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