Beth Shepard pointed out the wooded area behind William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School, saying that all of those woods, from behind the school, all the way to Abingdon Road, could be gone if the planned Abingdon Business Park is approved by Harford County.
“I don’t think people realize how much this is going to affect the community,” she said.
Shepard was among about 20 people who took part in a protest Monday evening against the development. Plans call for building more than 2 million square feet of warehouse, commercial and retail facilities on nine lots across 326 acres near the Route 24/I-95 interchange in Abingdon.
The project has drawn considerable condemnation from members of the community, including people such as Shepard, a resident of the neighboring Autumn Run subdivision, as they fear negative impacts to the environment with the loss of the extensive woods now on the site, increased traffic along nearby highways, as well as noise, diesel fumes from trucks and bright lights harming the quality of life for residents of neighborhoods adjacent to the site.
The site is southeast of the I-95 interchange, and it is bounded on the south side by properties just north of Route 7 and on the east side by Abingdon Road. Shepard noted the project will affect more than just those who live in the area, such as commuters who drive along Route 7 to get to and from work every day.
Residents, who have been fighting the project since plans for Abingdon Business Park were shown during a community input meeting in January, worked with community groups such as Harford County Climate Action and Friends of Harford to put on the protest Monday. Tracey Waite, president of Harford County Climate Action, said the event is the third such protest against the business park.
“It’s probably the worst development issue that we have in the county at present because of the significant [potential for] loss of wetlands and native life,” said Bel Air resident Sue Rice, a member of the Together We Will-Harford County/Upper Chesapeake community group, supporter of the Harford Land Trust and a former board member of Friends of Harford.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman cited the Abingdon Business Park in his State of the County speech in January as he listed economic development projects coming to the county. Planners have said the business park could generate about 1,000 jobs.
Protesters stood along Route 7 Monday, across from the elementary school, for about 90 minutes. They held protest signs and waved at motorists; a number of drivers honked their horns in support of the group.
“It was a small turnout, but every little step counts,” Shepard said.
Waite said it concerns her, “personally, that citizens’ concerns are not being heard,” especially with the potential for loss of wildlife, exacerbation of flooding issues on neighboring residential properties and how the loss of green space could contribute to global climate change.
“With climate change, everybody is affected,” said Waite, who noted the woods and wetlands on the business park site — which is zoned for commercial and industrial use — “have a big role to play in helping this county deal with climate change.”
Waite also cited how neighborhood children living near the site benefit from having woods adjacent to their back yards. She said their families should not have to drive to use the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail or the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center to be exposed to nature.
“As wonderful as that [Estuary Center] is, having woods in your backyard is what kids need to be healthy,” Waite said.
Abingdon resident Cade Bergeron, who lives about two miles from the business park site, also expressed his concern about how the project could affect climate change. The 17-year-old is going into his senior year in the Science and Mathematics Academy magnet program at Aberdeen High School.
Bergeron said he has learned about climate change in school.
“To find out that these things are happening on the scale that they are, it’s kind of devastating,” he said, referring to many members of the public’s “ignorance and inability to realize the impact of climate change.”
“The kind of detrimental effects [of climate change], you don’t want to see that happening in your neighborhood,” he said.
Emily Frias, of the statewide nonprofit Chesapeake Climate Action Network, also participated.
“We really support this kind of local action on climate change,” Frias said.
County Councilman Andre Johnson, who represents the Edgewood and Joppa areas and has held prior meetings to hear residents’ concerns, stopped by and chatted briefly with protesters. Participants thanked Johnson for his support, to which he replied: “You guys put me in office to be your voice.”
He said he cannot make any promises regarding the status of the project, which went through a review by the county’s Development Advisory Committee in March, but he encouraged residents to “keep up the fight.”
Waite said community members will be canvassing in local neighborhoods this weekend, and the coalition will host an informational and planning meeting at the Harford County Sheriff’s Office Southern Precinct in Edgewood July 31.