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Chesapeake Bay Foundation, neighbors of Abingdon Business Park, seek court review of plans

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, along with five people who live near the site of the planned Abingdon Business Park warehouse and commercial development near the Route 24/I-95 interchange, are pursuing legal action in Harford County Circuit Court, the foundation announced Thursday.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, headquartered in Annapolis, seeks the court’s review of a forest conservation plan and a waiver allowing the removal of 49 “specimen trees” submitted by the developer and approved by Harford County’s planning director.

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The 326-acre wooded site, owned by Harford Investors, is slated for about 2.4 million square feet of warehouse buildings, plus more than 97,000 more square feet dedicated to commercial and retail buildings.

The foundation noted in its petition for judicial review, filed Jan. 9, that the developer — CREG/Westport I, LLC of Hanover — received approval from the county to remove trees from more than 200 acres, including the specimen, or unique, trees.

“These trees are old and large, and they filter significantly more water than smaller trees,” according to a CBF press release issued Thursday.

The county granted its approval Dec. 9 for the forest conservation plan and the specimen tree waiver request; the foundation, along with “other associations and individuals,” had sent a letter to the planning director in September to express their concerns about the warehouse project, according to the court petition.

The Haha Branch stream runs through the business park property. That stream is a tributary of the Bush River, which leads to the Chesapeake Bay, according to the foundation.

“Among other deficiencies, the approval fails to demonstrate, as required by law, that replacing priority forest with impervious surface will not impact water quality,” foundation officials stated in court documents. “As part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, any impacts to water quality in Harford County also impact the Bay and its tributaries.”

Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for the Harford County government, said Thursday that the county has received the petition “and we will be responding through court documents.”

The Abingdon Business Park has been the subject of much protest for nearly a year by members of the community who want to protect the site from development.

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Many people who are against the project are those who live in neighborhoods adjacent to the property, and they are concerned about potential noise and lights from warehouses, increased air pollution and traffic from cargo trucks traveling to and from the business park, exacerbation of flooding — which is already a problem for neighbors during heavy rains, as well as the overall loss of woods and wetland areas and potential negative impacts on wildlife that live there.

Five individual neighbors — Cynthia Arthur, Douglas and Jean Bonn, Amber Kazmerski and Beth Shepard — are named as petitioners along with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Each neighbor has expressed concern about impacts to wildlife, air and light pollution, flooding, noise, and the inability to enjoy and use their properties in the same manner they do now.

The foundation wants the court to reverse the approval of the forest conservation plan and send it back to the county’s planning and zoning department so officials “can ensure that all reasonable site development alternatives are considered to protect water quality,” according to the CBF press release.

“Already the Bush River is classified as impaired due to high levels of sediment from stormwater runoff,” according to the release. “Removing a large forest stand in the Bush River watershed and replacing it with impervious surface without fully examining potential water quality impacts may further exacerbate pollution issues in the Bush River.”

Paul Smail, staff litigation attorney for the CBF, said in a statement that “protecting the Chesapeake Bay requires protecting trees, and clear-cutting more than 200 acres of forest will pose real risks to nearby waterways and properties.”

“We’re asking the court to review this development approval process to make sure Harford County officials fully examined these impacts and considered changes to reduce them,” Smail continued. “At this point, we don’t believe that has been considered.”

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