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Harford County Council to take up zoning waiver for Aberdeen development, potentially paving the way for 170 homes

The Harford County Council will consider waiving a five-year waiting period to allow a change to the zoning of the Seibert and Adams' properties, which the city of Aberdeen annexed in 2019, and possibly open the door for the development of 170 homes in the area.

Tuesday, the county council held a public hearing on the exemption the city could be granted.

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Maryland law requires a five-year waiting period for development of an annexed property if the proposed development is substantially different from what is permitted under its pre-annexation zoning classification. The Seibert and Adams properties along Gilbert Road were both zoned for agricultural uses, but Aberdeen changed their zonings to integrated business district upon their annexation, allowing for “residential, recreational, educational, retail, entertainment, and other commercial uses,” according to the city’s code.

The legislation, introduced by Councilman Chad Shrodes, would waive that five-year waiting period, which only the county council has the authority to override. The council will consider the resolution again next week, Council President Patrick Vincenti said at the end of Tuesday’s public hearing.

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Harford County’s Director of Public Works Joseph J. Siemek requested the council hold off on granting the waiver until traffic studies could be conducted at several intersections along Gilbert Road, Long Drive, Aldino-Stepney Road and Locksley Manor Drive.

“Any future development of individual properties will require an updated traffic impact analysis, which will determine necessary improvements to the impacted county roads in accordance with county Adequate Public Facilities law requirements,” Siemek said in his prepared testimony.

According to a September letter addressed to Aberdeen’s City Manager Randy Robertson, the property’s potential developer Gil Horwitz said he had plans for 78 single family homes and 92 villas in the area.

Joseph F. Snee Jr., the attorney for the developer, said the annexation was pursued so the land could benefit from Aberdeen’s water and sewer services, along with its zoning classification as part of the city. He said the city was in need of more varied housing options. The villa homes, Snee said, would be particularly attractive to senior citizens, as they would not require lawn maintenance.

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“The fact of the matter is the City of Aberdeen needs housing choices, which they do not have,” Snee said. “With this, they will finally have it.”

Snee stressed that Aberdeen is bordered by land zoned for agricultural uses, making those areas not fit with the county’s comprehensive land-use plan, which is only a birds-eye-view recommendation and not legally binding. The fact that Aberdeen’s revised zoning does not fit with the county’s master plan, he said, is normal. Havre de Grace is also bounded by agricultural land, he observed Tuesday.

Outside of the legislative arena, both Snee and Shrodes said the community was receptive to the idea of the development. The developer, working with the county council, asked for residents' input multiple times before settling on a plan for the site.

“So many times when we are doing development work, you know, we are at loggerheads with the community,” Snee said. “Everybody came to the table, and I think I can fairly state that everyone is happy.”

Though the community and developers reached an agreement, Bradley Killian, director of the county’s planning and zoning department, noted Tuesday that his department had not approved of the proposed development. Since 2008, seeing that the proposed annexation did not fit with the county’s comprehensive land use plan, the department of planning and zoning has recommended Aberdeen’sgrowth areas be “significantly reduced.”

“As you consider the waiver before you, I ask only that you allow city, county and state agencies time to properly evaluate future impacts and develop an acceptable course of action to ensure we can safely and efficiently meet the needs of our current and future residents," Killian said.

Aberdeen’s director of planning and community development Phyllis Grover said Tuesday that the two sites have been categorized as growth areas in the city’s comprehensive plan for the past 18 years.

Robertson knows about the dearth of housing in the city; he experienced it when he moved to Aberdeen from Alaska to take his current job. He looked around for housing that would suit him and his wife and found none. He stayed in a hotel for close to three months during the search.

With its proximity to Aberdeen Proving Ground, but lack of housing, workers at the installation are going farther afield for housing, Robertson said. Beyond the potential financial loss to the city, those workers commuting to the Army base can also snarl traffic.

“They have money, and they are going somewhere else,” Robertson said. “We are running out of places to put these people.”

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