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Bel Air town commissioners extend public comment session on annexation to next meeting; no vote taken

The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners has extended its public hearing session on the proposed annexation of a 1.46-acre field near the Liriodendron Mansion and also postponed a vote on the annexation’s approval.

The public hearing will continue at the board’s next meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.

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Monday’s virtual meeting was well attended, Bel Air Mayor Amy Chmielewski noted; the annexation has been hotly debated and the subject of a fiery meeting of the town’s planning commission where numerous residents voiced their opposition to what they saw as destruction of a green space for profit.

Six of the seven speakers Monday largely echoed what was said at the Oct. 1 meeting of the planning commission and asked the board of town commissioners to vote against the annexation.

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Bradley Stover, an attorney representing Liriod LLC — the company that owns the field — said the issue before the board was solely annexation. Any further plans to develop the field would be subject to the town’s normal process, though he did say the impetus for annexation was extension of the town’s sewer infrastructure to the properties for the possible development of three homes.

“The request for the annexation would get the benefits of being in the town, which would include access to public utilities,” he said.

Part of the reason the planning commission advanced the request for annexation was the land owner’s ability to get access to town utilities without being technically in the town. It would be better, the planning commission reasoned, for the town to have some control over what happens to the property by annexing it than having to live with whatever is built on the property under the county’s zoning regulations, which require less space per home than Bel Air’s zoning code. Presently, the property is in the county.

Town commissioner Erin Hughes said Monday that there is precedent for properties outside of the town’s limits to receive the municipality’s services. The town’s sewer system services the Liriodendron Mansion proper despite the historic mansion being, technically, in Harford County.

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Still, residents decried the possible annexation and development of the field, saying it undercuts the small-town vibe of Bel Air. Local artist Jonathan West said the field was his “muse" and encouraged the town commissioners to strike down the proposed annexation. West has been at the vanguard of opposition to the annexation, painting and posting several signs opposing the plan on his own property adjacent to the field.

“When something is perfect, adding anything will ruin it,” West said. “I would hate to be even partially responsible for being part of the generation of vipers and fools who would allow for such a travesty to take place.”

Irene Stoss, another local, said that the property’s development would require asphalt to be laid, leading to potential stormwater management concerns, and the possible homes' front yards would look into her backyard. She said, if the property is annexed and the homes are built, she would request an 8-foot privacy fence built to hide her own property from the developments.

“You as the government will be directly affecting our quality of life, as well as our neighbors',” she said.

Area resident Kajus Derby said he thought the property should remain undeveloped until the town drafts its next comprehensive plan in 2022 — a guide for development and regulation in the town. Furthermore, he said, population of the town has grown, but the number of town green spaces and parks has remained static.

“They are relying on Harford County parks to fill the gaps,” he said.

In an October letter to the board of commissioners, County Executive Barry Glassman requested development of the property be limited to single-family homes, only be divided into three lots and not allow for access to the property via Gordon Street.

The parcel was bought by Liriod LLC 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.

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