Members of the community who have spent the past two years working to stop the Abingdon Business Park, a major development planned for 326 acres of wooded land near the Route 24/I-95 interchange, are not giving up their fight, even with the news that a firm slated to develop the project has sold its interest.
“We won’t give up, we’re not going to back down — no one wants to back out of this,” Abingdon resident Janet Hardy said.
The project involves building more than 2 million square feet of retail, commercial and warehouse facilities on nine lots within a property that currently consists of woods, wetlands and a section of the Haha Branch stream.
Many local residents have expressed opposition to the development since it was presented during a community input meeting in January of 2019, citing concerns about the impacts to the environment, adding traffic to nearby roads such as Abingdon Road and Route 7, plus excess light, noise and air pollution affecting neighboring residences, schools and houses of worship.
The site, which is zoned for commercial and industrial use, is owned by Harford Investors LLP. It was placed in Harford County’s Edgewood/Joppa Enterprise Zone in April of 2019 after the County Council voted 6-1 in favor of a resolution to expand the zone — Councilman Andre Johnson, who represents the Edgewood and Joppa areas and has met with community members opposed to Abingdon Business Park, cast the dissenting vote.
“I’m going to be affected by the tractor trailers going up and down Abingdon Road,” said resident MaryLee Stritch, who lives less than a mile from the site, in the Philadelphia Station community.
The news that developer Chesapeake Real Estate Group LLC had sold its contract interest in Abingdon Business Park was the topic of discussion among community opponents as they gathered for their weekly meeting Friday, according to Hardy.
The Hanover-based firm, which develops and operates commercial real estate, announced Thursday that its interest had been sold to “an unrelated third-party entity,” according to a news release from CREG.
The buyer was Westport Group LLC, according to Larry Lichtenauer, a spokesperson for CREG. He did not say how Westport plans to proceed with the development, noting that it would not be appropriate for him to talk about other companies’ projects.
“The opportunity costs and development timeline associated with this project outweighed the upside for our company and we felt the time was right to head in a different direction,” Jim Lighthizer, president of Chesapeake Real Estate Group, said in a statement. “We wish the buyers luck as we look forward to refocus and deploy our resources on our other projects under construction and in our pipeline.”
The company also sold its interest in the development of the 600,000 square-foot Route 100 Logistics Park, in Anne Arundel County, in December, according to the news release.
“These sale transactions are further indication of a red-hot e-commerce and industrial real estate market that shows no signs of slowing down,” Lighthizer stated.
CREG has developed other commercial sites in Harford County, such as the 101-acre Trimble Road Business Park and the 571,000 square-foot Perryman Logistics Center, according to the release.
Erin Gruver, of Westport, said he did not have any comment when reached by phone. Gruver is listed as a principal of the Baltimore-area Westport, also a commercial real estate development, investment and operating company, according to LinkedIn.
Westport 1 LLC has been listed as a co-applicant with CREG on Harford County documents related to the developers seeking approval from the county government to build, as well as an application to the Maryland Department of the Environment for a nontidal wetlands and waterways permit. The state agency granted the permit in June of 2020.
The Gunpowder Riverkeeper filed suit against the MDE and CREG/Westport I LLC in July of 2020. The case is currently listed as “held sub curia,” or under review, in Harford County Circuit Court as of Jan. 29, according to online court records. A prior case against the county government, in which the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and five neighbors of the site challenged the county’s approval of the developers’ forest conservation plan, was dismissed in October of 2020.
The county has approved a preliminary plan submitted by the applicants to create nine lots, as well as site plans to develop warehouses on three of those lots, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.
The Morning Sun
The site plans were approved in February of 2020, and the approval is good for two years with an option of a one-year extension. Preliminary plan approvals are good for three years with an option for a two-year extension.
No permits for construction or building have been issued yet, though. A grading permit is currently under county review, Mumby said.
“It just made me think we’re back to square one again,” Stritch said of the news that CREG sold its interest, noting opponents might have to “fight a brand new environmental destroyer.”
“They’re stuck with us protesting,” she said. “We will continue to protest.”
Hardy lives off of Abingdon Road, just across from the site. She said her children would explore the woods when they were growing up, and she recalled the unique types of trees and wildlife she has seen in the area.
She said it should remain in its natural state, filtering air pollution from nearby highways as well as filtering water pollution.
“Just leave it alone,” Hardy said. “Don’t manicure it, don’t pave it; just let it do its thing.”