Bel Air commissioners vote to deny annexation of field near historic Liriodendron mansion

The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners voted 3-2 to deny the annexation of a field near the Liriodendron mansion at its Monday meeting after months of public pushback. But the land, which is in the purview of Harford County government, could still be developed in the future, officials said.

The commissioners proposed several motions Monday to approve the annexation, which would have brought the 1.46-acre field within the town’s limits while restricting the the number of homes that could be developed there to two. Previously, the Bel Air Planning Commission recommended the property be annexed into town but the number of homes on the property be limited to three, among other conditions.


Those motions failed before Commissioner Patrick Richards proposed they deny the annexation application in its entirety if the commissioners would not restrict development. Now, he said, was the time to place restrictions on the property.

“What is on the table is property rights of an individual owner and what restrictions we as a town might want to put on that owner,” he said. “Restricting the number ... to two houses on this property finds a bit of a balance in my mind.”


Town attorney Charles Keenan Jr. said those conditions had not previously been proposed to the petitioners for annexation and could change the calculus for potentially building there. Richards said “that is their business decision to make.”

Bel Air Mayor Amy Chmielewski said that just because the property was not annexed does not mean it cannot be developed in the future, or that the town will not need to provide it water and sewer services.

“Any denial of public sewer or access to right of way by the town may be contested,” she said. “Past projects of similar circumstances were able to access town services even though they were not in the town limits.”

The town’s zoning classification is more restrictive than the county’s equivalent, requiring 2,500 more square feet per lot than the county’s zoning requirements. Chmielewski favored approving the annexation to have input on what is built there.

Chmielewski took time before the vote to dispel some misinformation about the now-failed annexation that was circulating on social media.

The property is privately held and was never offered for sale to the town, though it was offered to the county, which declined the purchase, she said. It has also never been classified as green space or park space. Additionally, the zoning classification it would have fallen under in town does not permit condos or duplexes, but the county’s zoning classification permits townhouses in units of four, according to the county’s planning and zoning department.

“I would rather have a say in what happens with that property because it is so important,” she said after the vote.

Commissioner Erin Hughes agreed with Chmielewski; if the property is likely to be developed anyway, bringing it into the town, she reasoned, was a prudent move.

“I am more of the opinion that, because development of this lot is pretty much inevitable, I think it is in the best interest of the town to see it annexed, if possible,” she said before the vote.

Commissioners Kevin Bianca and Donna Kahoe voted with Richards to deny the annexation.

Liriod LLC purchased the site in March. According to Maryland property records, the site was valued at $72,500, but it was purchased for $160,000. Liriod LLC is composed of multiple smaller LLCs, the company’s registered agent Dennis Reimann said at a prior meeting.

Opponents of the annexation voiced their concerns for the property at the meeting, asking questions of town officials and Brad Stover, Liriod LLC’s attorney. Most were critical of the proposed annexation, saying it spoils green land for the enrichment of a few developers and constitutes a step toward erasing Bel Air’s small-town vibe.


Area resident Jonathan West, who was at the forefront of the opposition to annexation, said the denial was a victory for him and the neighborhood. West’s home on Gordon Street borders the Liriodendron Mansion property. He does not believe the county or town would offer the land water and sewer services, and they would almost certainly run into opposition from the neighbors if they try.

“They obviously would not be able to put any houses there without town sewer or water,” he said. “They are going to run into the same adversarial effects from these neighbors [if attempted].”

After months of posting multiple signs against the annexation in his yard, West has replaced them with one depicting a jubilant snowman and the words “Thank you God,” he said Tuesday.

Stover did not respond to questions regarding Liriod’s next move by 2 p.m. Tuesday.

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