The recent rezoning of four properties on East Broadway in Bel Air by the Board of Town Commissioners has raised fears among some residents and officials that new development there might alter the character of the town.
The four properties — at addresses 43, 45, 53 and 57 East Broadway — were among 13 rezoned by the commissioners when they passed an ordinance May 2 that will take effect May 22.
Colgate Investments, the Forest Hill-based parent company of Klein’s Family Markets, petitioned the commission for the zoning changes to “accommodate future growth and expansion of the Klein’s ShopRite,” according to a justification statement included in the ordinance packet.
The Klein family, which has operated in Harford County since 1925, currently runs six stores in the county. The ShopRite Pharmacy store is located at 223 N. Main St., and the East Broadway properties, which they own, are right behind it.
According to the minutes from the Bel Air Planning Commission meeting April 7, the town’s planning director Kevin Small said the rezoning would “encourage development and expansion of retail and service uses.”
Some, however, are not happy with the direction that expansion might take.
Town Commissioner Paula Etting cast the lone vote against the rezoning ordinance May 2, noting that the rezoning of 53 and 57 East Broadway would change the neighborhood’s character.
“I drive up and down Broadway pretty much every day,” Etting said. “I am very familiar with all the properties.”
Resident Steve Chizmar agreed.
“It’s encroaching on the existing neighborhoods,” Chizmar said of rezoning. “Broadway is a gateway into the town, and it gives you that small-town feel. Now they want to make it into something. I don’t know what it’s going to look like because we don’t have any plans. But it could be glass and mirror retail and high-density housing, apartments or condos or town houses. They were not specific, so it’s a big unknown.”
Colgate Investments also owns three East Gordon Street properties — 30, 38 and 44 E Gordon Street — that were rezoned from B-2A Central Business Gateway to B-3A Business Gateway. The designation B-2A is meant to keep the small-town, low-building feel while B-3A is for a transitional area with mixed use.
At the April 7 meeting, the commission voted in favor of recommending the rezoning of 43, 45 and 53 E Broadway, and against 57 E Broadway. A staff analysis from the Department of Planning and Community Development initially recommended not rezoning of 53 and 57 E Broadway.
Peter Schlehr, the commission’s vice chair, said that the town would lose a lot of green space by rezoning these properties, according to the meeting minutes. Commission member Keith Powell said he saw a difference between 53 and 57 East Broadway, because 57 E. Broadway was next to houses and opposite apartments, while 53 E. Broadway backed up to properties on Gordon Street also rezoned as part of the ordinance.
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The commission voted to approve recommending the rezoning of the three Gordon Street properties at the same meeting.
Bel Air Mayor Kevin Bianca was one of the four votes in favor of the ordinance.
“There are sometimes people who are unhappy for a variety of reasons when zoning issues come into play,” Bianca told The Aegis via email. “But if there is one family that has always done right by our community, it is the Klein family, and I would hope that they would continue their great work in our community during the development process to ensure that people are satisfied with the final product.”
Etting clarified that the vote allows the rezoning of these properties — it does not approve or reject any given project. Etting said property owners of the East Broadway sites can build anything allowed under B-3A zoning, so long as they abide by proper requirements of the development process.
Joseph Snee, the attorney representing the East Broadway property owners, declined commenting on the issue, nor would he comment on what would happen with the future of these properties.