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Owner of proposed Bel Air Walmart site seeks review for nearby medical campus

Lawyers representing the owner of two Bel Air South properties that have figured prominently in a year-plus debate over future development in the area have asked a judge to review Harford County's recent approval of a site plan for a medical arts campus in the same neighborhood.

The petition for judicial review of the site plan approval for the proposed MedStar Health ambulatory care campus was filed in Harford County Circuit Court on Aug. 9 on behalf of Evergreen Business Trust and the Haron Dahan Foundation.

In the alternative of a court review of the approval, the petitioner has asked the court to issue what is known as a writ of mandamus to compel the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning to reopen its review of the site plan for the 16.7-acre property that Medstar has contracted to buy from 2001 Emmorton Road LLC.

Robert Lynch, of Bel Air, one of Evergreen's lawyers, declined to comment on the filing other than to say that his clients "have concerns [about the plan] that would impact their property."

"The Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning and the Law Department are aware of the petition and they are working on a response," Assistant County Attorney Meaghan G. Alegi said Tuesday, through county government spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson. "Harford County Government does not comment on pending litigation."

The MedStar project is planned for east of Route 924 (Emmorton Road) at the stub end of Plumtree Road. Evergreen owns two properties along Plumtree that are separated by Route 24. The 33-acre property closest to the MedStar site is planned for a Walmart and other commercial uses, while the other 17-acre property would be developed for nearly 200 apartments.

The Walmart project, which has faced considerable public opposition, is still under review by the county planning department. The apartment project is involved in the zoning appeals process, with a hearing scheduled before the Harford County Council, in its capacity as the board of appeals, on Sept. 10.

The MedStar project, meanwhile, sailed through the initial county approval process in relatively short order since it was first unveiled last December.

The project calls for construction of a three-story, 102,235-square-foot building, followed by a three-story, 27,765-square-foot building, if needed, a representative of the developer said in early August after the site plan was approved. The property is east of Walgreens and the Sonic drive-in.

In approving the site plan, the county placed several conditions on the developer, many of them dealing with area traffic improvements, including construction of a right turn lane for northbound traffic at Tollgate Road and Bel Air South Parkway, extending the left turn lane of westbound Plumtree Road at Route 24 and widening east Wheel Road at the intersection of Route 24, creating a right turn lane, a through lane and a left turn lane.

Other improvements required by the county include extending the left turn lane on westbound Patterson Mill Road at Route 924, extending the right turn lane on northbound Route 924 at Patterson Mill Road and extending or adding turn lanes at the intersection of Route 924 with Bel Air South Parkway and Laurel Bush Road.

Although traffic concerns have been raised by area residents regarding the proposed 186,000-square-foot Walmart, many of the same people have been supportive of the MedStar project, which they say is needed in the area, unlike a big box retail store or apartments.

In early August, shortly after the planning department approved the MedStar campus site plan, a county planning official said Walmart had been asked to make revisions to its site plan to "address deficiencies" highlighted in a traffic analysis.

Another planning official, Deputy Planning Director Anthony McClune, said at the time that planners had specific concerns regarding the movement of trucks on the site, as well as the overall parking and pedestrian layout in the site plan. He also said the county wanted greater forest conservation on the remaining five lots on the site which will be used for fast food outlets, bank branches or other retail.

A Walmart spokesperson said the company would continue to work with local and state traffic reviewers "to ensure all needs are met" and was looking forward to moving along in the approval process.

Evergreen has contracts to sell one of its properties to Walmart and the other to a Baltimore County-based apartment developer.

The Haron Dahan Foundation was endowed by developer and philanthropist Haron "Hal" Dahan, an Israeli immigrant who died in March and was active in Harford County home building and land development and speculation for more than 40 years. The foundation's principal beneficiaries are Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore and Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, according to Lynch, who has been the lawyer for Mr. Dahan's Harford County business interests for a number of years.

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