The woods and farm fields that surround the historic Mt. Felix Manor and the Sion Hill mansion in the northwestern part of Havre de Grace could look very different in the coming years, should property owners and developers receive approval to build a series of commercial and residential projects on those lands.
An amended single concept plan for the 244.3-acre Green-Ianniello-Patrone tract, between Bulle Rock Parkway and Route 155, was adopted by the Havre de Grace City Council last month — it is the latest iteration of the concept plan to develop the large parcel annexed by the city in 2014.
The concept plan underwent some significant revisions this summer and fall as a fourth property owner — George M. Johnson of Atlanta — came on board with his purchase of close to 23 acres from the Green family during the summer. He will be one of four signatories of the single concept plan, along with representatives for the Green family, who own the largest portion of the tract and operate a farm on their land, plus representatives for the estate of Charlotte Patrone, and Peter and Mary Ianniello.
Johnson purchased 22.8 acres that surround the historic Sion Hill mansion. The dwelling, which dates to 1787, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was the home of Commodore John Rogers starting in the early 1800s. Rogers was a famed officer in the early U.S. Navy, who organized the defense of Baltimore during the War of 1812 and served as Secretary of the Navy during the 1820s. Four generations of Rogers’ descendants also served in the Navy, according to the city’s staff report for the single concept plan and a Maryland Historical Trust report on Sion Hill.
“He doesn’t have any family ties to it, but he loves the historical structure, and decided he wanted to purchase it,” said Bel Air attorney Robert Lynch, who is representing Johnson.
Johnson does not currently have plans to develop his acreage, rather he plans to leave the house and grounds as they currently are. He lives in Atlanta full time, but “he intends to spend a fair amount of time up here at Sion Hill,” Lynch said Tuesday.
The full 244-acre tract is nestled among extensive residential development on the far north side of Havre de Grace, including the Bulle Rock, Scenic Manor and Grace Harbour subdivisions.
The plan, the result of coordination among multiple property owners, developers and city officials, shows in general the proposed uses for the different properties, such as residential or commercial developments, as well as a 50-acre portion adjacent to the Grace Harbour that will be preserved for open space. The plan also shows a 5-acre section in the middle of the tract, near the Mt. Felix winery, that will be reserved for a city park open to the public, along with a proposed road network with five lanes giving drivers access from Bulle Rock Parkway and Level Road.
Another feature shown on the single concept plan is a walking trail that winds its way through land owned by the Green family, along interior roads and then Bulle Rock Parkway, ending near Route 155. It is meant to connect to the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway’s network of trails along the Susquehanna River in Cecil and Harford counties.
Shane Grimm, planning director for the city, stated in an email Monday that “the owners of the respective properties may proceed with their individual development projects through the submission of preliminary subdivision plans and site plans,” should those projects conform with city zoning requirements specific to the zoning district those lands are in — all parcels in the overall tract are zoned RB, or residential business.
A number of uses, both principal permitted and conditional uses, are allowed in Havre de Grace RB zoning districts, such as single-family houses and townhouses, health care centers, retail stores, banks, restaurants, cultural institutions like museums and theaters, breweries, distilleries and wineries, and “boutique hotels,” according to city zoning codes.
“No site plans or subdivision plans have been submitted by the respective property owners for approval to date,” Grimm stated in his email.
The City Council had adopted the single concept plan during its Aug. 3 meeting, clearing the way for development of the properties, but city officials learned later in August that the Sion Hill property had been purchased.
The council tabled Resolution 2020-16, the resolution indicating the city’s approval of the single concept plan during its Aug. 17 meeting for further review of the new developments with the city attorney and planning director.
The resolution was “untabled” during the Nov. 2 council meeting, and Councilman Jim Ringsaker offered a number of amendments to account for new property boundary lines, realignment of internal roads and affirm that the Ianniellos, whose property is in the middle of the tract, can retain road access to their land via a 50-foot-wide easement from Route 155.
One of the proposed internal roads, labeled Road D, follows that current easement and goes from Level Road to Mt. Felix and the proposed city park. It abuts land formerly owned by the Greens and now owned by Johnson, though, plus Peter Ianniello has said that he does not own the land that could become the road bed, but he does maintain the easement in that area, based on the deed and title to his property.
Ringsaker put forth two amendments to be codified as conditions in the single concept plan. One affirms that the Ianniello property owners “shall retain the right to access Route 155 utilizing their existing 50-foot easement, until such time as modified by an approved site plan.”
The second amendment indicates that, should the Ianniellos not receive approval from the State Highway Administration or neighboring property owners to build a full-access road from Route 155, the “owner-developer” can design and build sections of Road C or Road E that ensure vehicle access to their property from Bulle Rock Parkway.
Both amendments, as well as all others offered by Ringsaker, received unanimous approval during the Nov. 2 council meeting.
Peter Ianniello, whose family owns Mt. Felix Vineyard & Winery and about 15 acres of surrounding property, plans to develop a campus that includes a retirement community and assisted living facility. It also is his intention to build a private road within his 50-foot easement to serve the planned private development — subject to approval by the SHA and the city.
“We want our project to be a world-class facility and a great project for the community,” he said Monday.
Ianniello said he hopes to break ground on the senior living community and assisted living facility about two years from now, provided the city grants all necessary approvals.
“The city of Havre de Grace is an incredible place to live,” he said. “It’s a great city — it provides a wide range of activities for people of all ages. For an active adult, the number of opportunities to successfully age are numerous.”
Ianniello and his family have lived in Havre de Grace since 1995, and they acquired the Mt. Felix winery and vineyard in 2004. He noted the city, which he described as “Maryland’s best-kept secret,” has a number of amenities to help adults 55 and older remain engaged in intellectual and physical activities as they age.
Such amenities include waterfront recreation, sports facilities, the Cultural Center at the Opera House and the Havre de Grace Library downtown, as well as proximity to major highways such as I-95. He also praised Harford County’s recent purchase of Belle Vue Farm, announced in September. The acquisition of the 347-acre property adjacent to Swan Harbor Farm south of the city give residents of the Havre de Grace area another one of many points of public access to the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay waterfront, according to Ianniello.
“I get excited, not about my project, I get exited about the community,” he said. “When you start looking at the amazing things Harford County and the City of Havre de Grace are able to offer senior citizens, it’s unique.”
Bel Air-based real estate developer Don Sample, who has a contract to purchase 40 acres from the Greens slated for construction of single-family houses, also praised initiatives by Havre de Grace leaders to support growth of the city.
“They have a great group of very talented and dedicated people, who are trying to grow their community with smart-growth principles and cost-effective growth for their infrastructure,” he said Tuesday. “They’re giving careful consideration for how they grow their town, and I applaud them for doing that.”
The 40 acres which he is working to develop is off of Bulle Rock Parkway and abuts the 4.2 acres owned by the Patrone estate. The Patrone land, which includes some existing houses, is adjacent to Scenic Manor and is accessible from Chapel Road.
Sample plans to develop single-family houses, which he described as “very comparable” to those in Scenic Manor, on land bordered by the Patrone property, Scenic Manor, the 50-acre open space parcel and the Ianniello property. The residential development would be built around the proposed Road A, which connects to Bulle Rock Parkway on one end and Scenic Manor Drive on the other, according to Sample.
The next steps for developers include completing a traffic impact assessment and forest stand and wetland delineation documents. Once those are approved, developers can proceed to creating a preliminary plan. Sample said he hopes to break ground by the fall of 2021, but construction could start in the spring of 2022, depending on the approval and planning process.
Sample, who is serving as project manager with Sion Hill Partners LLC for the purposes of the Havre de Grace development, said he has been working with the Green family for about a year and a half.
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“I’ve really enjoyed working with them,” he said. “It’s been just a wonderful experience.”