The Bel Air Planning Commission offered a favorable recommendation of the possible annexation of a field near the Liriodendron Mansion — with a few conditions.
Next, the matter will go before the town commissioners, but not before questions about its place on the National Registry of Historic Places are answered by the state and Harford County.
Over 50 people turned out to the Bel Air Planning Commission’s Thursday meeting — mostly to protest the possible annexation.
The parcel, about 1.5 acres of open field between Catherine and Gordon streets, was bought by Liriod LLC in March. According to Maryland’s property search tool, the site was valued at $72,500, but it was purchased for $160,000.
Attorney Bradley Stover, who made the LLC’s case for the annexation Thursday, deferred the question of why the property was bought over its assessed value to his client. He also praised the civility of the citizens and the board members at the meeting.
Liriod LLC is not in good standing, according to the state, because it has not filed an annual report for 2020. At the meeting, registered agent for the company Dennis Reimann said he thought he had submitted the report, but it got lost in the shuffle. He is working to fix it.
“We are getting back in good standing,” he said. “It is a report, and that is the only issue.”
Stover explained that the property’s zoning classification in Harford County currently requires 7,500 square feet of space for a plot, while the Bel Air zoning code the company wishes to switch it to if annexed requires 10,000 square-feet per plot. It follows that fewer homes could be squeezed onto the property under Bel Air’s zoning code, he reasoned, and said there were plans for three plots on the property, corresponding to homes.
Residents still worried over the number of houses a developer could put on the property. There were no guarantees, except as decided by the municipal government, Dudley Campbell of the engineering and surveying firm Bay State Land Services said.
“The only way that you are going to know for a fact that you are going to get three lots is through your government,” he said in a heated exchange with an attendee. “It is not my deal to make that promise.”
Alternatively, there is precedent, Stover said, for developments outside of the town’s borders to be serviced by its sewer system. Boardmember Phil Raub said it would be better to have the project in town and subject to its approvals than have to live with, and supply sewer to, whatever could be built under the county’s discretion if the land were to remain within its authority.
“I do not think it is a good risk for the town to say we are going to deny the annexation and then later on having to supply the sewer service and take whatever the county allows to be built there,” he said.
He proposed the board offer a favorable recommendation on the annexation on the conditions that any future land use is limited to three single-family detached lots, any subdivision plan includes a “robust landscape buffering plan” and no vehicle access be permitted onto Gordon Street. The planning commission unanimously approved his motion.
“It is a beautiful site, and it can still be a beautiful site,” Raub said.
Reimann said that Liriod LLC is owned by several other LLCs. He does not know who the members of each group is, but said at the meeting that the father of Harford County’s head of Economic Development Len Parrish was in one of those owner LLCs.
Len Parrish rents a house from Harford County Government at 500 W. Gordon St., directly across the street from the property up for annexation, according to a renter‘s agreement between him and the county.
LLCs that own other LLCs sometimes have different levels of control over the company’s operations. Reimann declined to say which companies had the most control over Liriod. He, too, is part of Liriod.
Bel Air’s Director of Planning Kevin Small said there was conflicting information about whether the proposed annexation was on the National Registry of Historic Places, and that the town would defer to the state and county’s decision on whether or not it is. If it is on the registry, that does not mean it cannot be annexed, he said.
Annexation is driven by municipalities, which can begin the process if the residents of a property agree to it, or if a property has no residents. Bel Air informed the county that it was considering annexation of the property on Sept. 21. Liriod approached the town and made a request for the property’s annexation.
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News of the property’s potential annexation was not well-received, leading some residents to sign a petition demanding the process stop.