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A plan to build a church on this agricultural property along Grafton Shop Road in Forest Hill drew concerns from residents, who told members of the Harford County Development Advisory Committee that drivers speed on their street on a regular basis.
A plan to build a church on this agricultural property along Grafton Shop Road in Forest Hill drew concerns from residents, who told members of the Harford County Development Advisory Committee that drivers speed on their street on a regular basis. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

In the time he has lived along Grafton Shop Road in Forest Hill, resident Bill Dulaney has experienced the death of the wife of his cousin in a crash at the intersection with Route 23, seen his cat get hit by a driver on Grafton Shop and felt the effects of many other crashes at the highway intersection in the form of traffic backups on his street.

“For everybody involved, that intersection down there [at Grafton Shop and Route 23] is just terrible,” he said.

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Dulaney expressed his concerns over safety at the intersection, which has been the scene of many fatal and serious injury crashes over the years, during a recent meeting of the Harford County Development Advisory Committee as the body reviewed plans for a project to build a church at the same intersection.

“I’ve called the police department 15 times in the last couple of years and asked for radar [enforcement] — they never show up,” he said during the meeting, which was held last Wednesday, Dec. 4.

“The one time that they did show up, they caught 52 people in one afternoon speeding on Grafton Shop Road with a maximum speed of 67 mph in a 30-mile zone,” Dulaney continued. “This happens every day, all day long.”

He attended the meeting with neighbor Mary Monk, who said later that she and other residents avoid traveling on Grafton Shop Road whenever possible. Monk said she takes back routes rather than going to Route 23 if she is driving to Bel Air.

“I use [Grafton Shop] some, but I get so scared when I go that way,” she said.

Project details

The committee reviewed a plan to create three lots out of a 43.6-acre tract at the northwest corner of Route 23 and Grafton Shop Road. Two lots on the tract, which is bounded on the north by West Jarrettsville Road, are slated for individual houses and a new facility for the Church of Reconciliation in Bel Air is planned for the third lot.

The site plan, which covers construction of the buildings and supporting infrastructure, will be presented during the DAC’s next meeting Dec. 18, committee chair Moe Davenport said. The next meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. in the first-floor conference room of the Harford County administration building at 220 S. Main St. in Bel Air.

The property in Forest Hill is zoned agricultural, and the residential and church buildings would be served by well water and septic systems for sewage, according to the preliminary plan presented Wednesday. One residence would have driveway access to West Jarrettsville Road, while the second residence and the church and its parking area would be accessible from Grafton Shop Road, according to the plan.

The Church of Reconciliation is currently on North Bond Street in Bel Air. The new church in Forest Hill is being designed for nearly 300 members, with a sanctuary, fellowship hall and administrative offices. The parking lot would be in front of the main church building, and a cemetery also is slated for the property, according to the minutes of a community input meeting on the project, held Nov. 18.

“There’s no way possible that we can take all that additional traffic [from the church] and it be safe to drive on [Grafton Shop Road],” Dulaney said during the DAC meeting.

Road improvements

Rich Zeller, who represents the State Highway Administration on the DAC, said his agency has no objection to the preliminary plan since the site will be accessed from county roads. The state does maintain Route 23, though, and the SHA is reviewing the traffic study submitted by the developer.

The developer would need to obtain an access permit from the state if SHA officials determine the project could affect state intersections or highways and improvements are needed, Zeller said.

Committee member Mike Rist, of the county’s Department of Public Works, said the driveways leading to West Jarrettsville and Grafton Shop must be designed with “adequate sight distance” for traffic traveling at 40 mph and 50 mph, respectively. Those thoroughfares also must be widened with a 30-foot county right-of-way along the property’s road frontage, Rist said.

“Monumental masonry mailboxes or structures shall not be constructed within the right of way,” he added.

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Rist explained later, in response to a question from Monk, that mailboxes placed in large brick structures along the road “create a safety hazard.”

Monk said she and her neighbors walk to the opposite side of the road, currently along a farm field, to get mail from their mailboxes.

David Taylor, an Abingdon-based engineer, presented the preliminary plan. He questioned the arrangement of mailboxes across the street from residents’ houses.

“If there is a concern for speeders here, why aren’t the mailboxes on their side of the road?” he asked.

Davenport said that is up to the U.S. Postal Service, but noted he would speak with the postmaster for Forest Hill.

Grafton Shop concerns

Dulaney and Monk are not the only people to speak out about safety at Grafton Shop Road and Route 23. County Councilman Chad Shrodes, who represents northern Harford County, sent letters in September to the Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transportation Authority, state legislators who represent Harford, the county government and local law enforcement, seeking their support in getting a roundabout built at the intersection.

Shrodes urged them to “please join me to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities in northern Harford County” by funding the roundabout. The state has denied prior requests for a roundabout, although the SHA has constructed left-turn only lanes and installed rumble strips along Route 23, The Aegis reported at the time.

Zeller, of the SHA, said his agency has fielded “numerous requests” about a roundabout over the years, and he acknowledged Dulaney’s concerns about traffic crashes.

“I live in this area too, so I’m well aware of the traffic concerns,” he said.

Dulaney asked about putting speed humps on Grafton Shop. Rist, of the county public works department, said he would refer the question to the public works official who handles such matters.

“Our main goal here is to make sure that the [driveway] accesses that they’re putting in are safe and constructed so that you can see well in each direction, but that doesn’t really address the speeding issue,” Rist said.

Davenport also noted that county officials are “well aware” of the issues at Grafton Shop and Route 23. He said expanding the county right-of-way on Grafton Shop could create a better environment for Sheriff’s Office deputies to pull speeders over.

Committee member Dan Buchler, of the Sheriff’s Office, said there is no shoulder on the narrow Grafton Shop Road, meaning there is no safe place to stop a motorist. A deputy who observes someone speeding on Grafton Shop can follow the driver and pull them over in a safer location, however.

He hears, over the police radio, deputies “constantly” running radar and making traffic stops in the area of Route 23.

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“They’ll be cited for the violation that occurred there [on Grafton Shop Road],” Buchler told Dulaney. “Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean the enforcement’s not happening.”

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