The annexation process for a field near the Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air, which the owners want to develop, is moving forward after the Board of Town Commissioners received a petition for annexation this week and authorized the creation of a resolution to annex the property.
Liriod LLC, which owns the 1.46-acre property, is seeking to annex it into Bel Air town limits to build two homes on the land between Catherine and Gordon streets. The LLC’s first bid to annex the field into town for the construction of three homes failed by a narrow vote of the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners in December.
Per Maryland law, at least 25% of property owners or registered voters in an area to be annexed must agree to annexation to petition for it. When the signatures are verified, the board accepts the petition and authorizes preparation of a resolution and annexation plan, Director of Planning Kevin Small said, as it did at its Monday meeting.
The whole process of applying for and considering annexation would take about three months, Small said. Several public hearings and meetings on the proposed annexation are in the cards ahead of any final vote, he said.
During that process, the town commissioners may attach conditions to development on the property during the annexation process through an annexation agreement, which can be used to protect environmental resources, limit development and mitigate impact to the neighborhood’s properties.
Currently, the property is subject to Harford County government’s zoning regulations, but constructing only two homes on the land would not be feasible under the county’s rules, Liriod’s registered agent Dennis Reimann said at a previous meeting. To build in the county, the developer would have to construct four homes, a public road and a cul-de-sac in order to access the property, remain cost-effective and stay compliant with the county’s guidelines, according to the annexation request. Reimann said the company did not wish to do that, as it would be costly and disruptive to the neighborhood.
A connection to the Town of Bel Air’s sewer system is already present on the property, Small said, and a single home could be built there, by right, without the need for any public hearing.
Questioned by an attendee of the meeting, Town Commissioner Erin Hughes said that there are disadvantages to denying the annexation, which she was not personally opposed to. If the property were developed in the county, the town would have to maintain the new road to the homes and could not collect tax revenue from them.
Hughes said she did not know what her vote would be this go-round, pending more information and public input on the proposal. Last time, Hughes voted in favor of the annexation.
“If it were to be developed within the county, the town would not get any tax revenue from that property or sewer revenue for a hookup,” she said. “And the property would have to be accessed by roads that we as town taxpayers pay to maintain.”
Correspondence between the town and Liriod obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request shows that four homes on the property were being considered shortly after denial of the first annexation attempt. In a Dec. 29 letter, Liriod’s attorney Bradley Stover asked the town for guidance on how to apply for public utilities in the town — acknowledging that the company was considering moving forward with building four homes under the county’s zoning regulations.
Bel Air’s Director of Public Works Stephen D. Kline replied on Jan. 11 that only “an engineered set of sewer drawings showing the location of where they intend to hook into the system, size of line and profile,” was needed. Previously, Stover said there was precedent for buildings in the county connecting to municipal services like the sewer system.
A two-lot alternative was proposed in the county, according to the annexation request, but it was not workable with the setback requirements the county imposes and the property’s layout.
“To meet the needed width an attempt was made to obtain a conveyance from an adjoining neighbor, but to date, they have been unwilling to do so,” the document states.
Throughout his correspondence with the town, Reimann said that he preferred the two-home plan contingent on the property’s annexation.
“There’s no question it’s much better than 4 lots and a public road,” he wrote in a March email to Hughes. “I really hope the neighborhood realizes it’s best.”
According to town attorney Charles Keenan, there is currently no limit on the number of times a petition for annexation can be made to the town. A limit could be imposed if the town were to change its laws, but the board of commissioners has not yet done so.
“The state law has a gap and allows continuous presentations of annexation after denial,” he said.
Liriod LLC purchased the site in March 2020. 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, Reimann said at a prior meeting.
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. It has also never been classified as green space or park space.
The meeting drew a familiar crowd of people opposed to the annexation — chiefly those who live in the area near the property.
Gina Kasimir, who lives in the neighborhood, said the homes would disrupt the neighborhood and that the town should not prioritize the company’s profits over the wishes of those who already live in the area.
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“The position of the majority of the community … remains the same,” she said. “It is not the responsibility of the town to maximize the developer’s profits in any way, shape or form.”