Tuesday’s public hearing for Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly’s proposed six-month moratorium on warehouse development has been a long time coming for Leigh Maddox and other residents of Perryman.
Maddox said the public hearing is a “big day.”
“We are moving into this year with the wind at our back and very excited to be part of a success story,” said Maddox, a leader of the citizen-led 3P Protect Perryman Peninsula coalition.
The moratorium bill was announced in early February and formally introduced to the Harford County Council Feb. 14. If passed, the bill would impose a six-month moratorium on county warehouse project approvals and permits.
“This pause will allow my administration necessary time to study the zoning and development regulations concerning mega-warehouses and their placement within the county,” Cassilly has said.
Perryman citizens have been unabashed in their opposition to the proposed development of 5.2 million square feet of warehouse space on the Mitchell property since late 2021. Citizens have expressed a multitude of concerns, including the potential for increased truck traffic and environmental damage to the waterfront community that traces its roots to the 1600s.
The small, unincorporated peninsula off Route 40 — its main access point — has become home to several large retail warehouses in the past decade. Bordered by Bush River inlets to the south and west, Aberdeen Proving Ground to the east, and Route 40 and the city of Aberdeen to the north, some residents say more warehouses would threaten the safety of the approximately 2,500 residents who call Perryman home, some for generations.
Cassilly’s moratorium is a cash-in on a campaign promise to help the citizens of Perryman. The coalition was so strong in its support for Cassilly that several Perryman Democrats switched their party affiliation to vote for Cassilly in last year’s Republican primary against Billy Boniface.
The coalition has organized several events over the past year to garner support and attention for their cause. A town hall meeting on Feb. 28 about traffic and safety in Perryman at the Harford County Sheriff’s Office southern precinct in Edgewood drew about 90 attendees, according to Maddox. Harford County Council member Dion Guthrie was among the attendees and said it was the largest crowd he’d ever seen at a public forum there.
Maddox said she expected a similarly large turnout for the public hearing, with signs out in Perryman, postings on Facebook and mailers sent to supporters. She also estimated around 200 people have submitted comments to the council about the legislation.
A bill was passed by the county council last April that would have placed a moratorium on building development on the Perryman Peninsula. However, then-county executive Barry Glassman vetoed the bill, and the council did not vote on whether to override the veto.
Although the prospect of the new moratorium is appealing to the citizens of Perryman, Maddox said they fear six months is not long enough “to turn the ship.”
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Perryman citizens have also raised concerns over updates to the proposed development plans and want a new Development Advisory Committee meeting for the project. The committee advises the county’s planning and zoning director on proposed development activities. The first DAC meeting for the Perryman project was in January 2022.
The Hanover-based developer, Chesapeake Real Estate Group, submitted updated plans to the county in September that would change many of the plan’s original aspects. One change would increase the maximum building height from 40 to 65 feet, which Perryman resident Ken Shannon calls “the big issue.” The developer’s plans are awaiting a decision by the county.
“That’s the thing that got buried in tiny font in one of these plans, and nobody’s talking about,” Shannon said.
Shannon has spent considerable time and effort looking into the developer’s plans, which are available on the county website. But he noted how difficult it is to navigate and make sense of the various filings, even with a specific portal on the Planning and Zoning Department’s website for the Mitchell property.
“It’s really hard for citizens to get information about what’s going on,” Shannon said.
Shane Grimm, the county’s director of planning and zoning, said his department has explained to many callers how to walk through the steps of the development process.
“I think we are more than transparent and have been more than helpful with anybody, not just on the Mitchell project,” Grimm said. “Anybody can call us to ask us where and how they can access information.”