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Developers considering 90-plus homes for 'Aberdeen Technology Campus'

In another sign the BRAC bloom is off the rose in Harford County, developers of a 22-acre site along Route 22 near Aldino Stepney Road, annexed by the City of Aberdeen in 2011, are considering building about 100 homes on the property instead of office buildings.

The site was to be known as Aberdeen Technology Campus and had originally been proposed for an office park with five buildings and two commercial pad sites when Aberdeen council members agreed to annex it three years ago.

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Project representatives told the Aberdeen City Council Monday, however, they are floating the possibility of building 92 or 98 single-family "cottage houses."

Lack of general interest in commercial development prompted the shift to a residential project, Mayor Mike Bennett and City Manager Doug Miller said Thursday.

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"The fact that we have three underutilized office parks is a pretty good indication that that is not a good way to go," Miller said about the idea of more office building construction.

Bennett said that situation is the whole justification for the change to houses.

"What they had going was just, apparently, they couldn't get any market takers [for]," he said.

Access, traffic concerns

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Attorney Eric McLauchlin told city officials the developers are "getting a comfort level" with the city's interest in the project before they decide about moving forward.

Council members seemed open to at least considering the plan, although they raised some concern about traffic on Route 22. The property is between Bakers Cemetery and Aldino-Stepney Road.

Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young said she did not see the possibility of only having one entry onto the highway from the development, and McLauchlin agreed some type of traffic study would be necessary if the project moves forward.

Bradley Stover, another lawyer for the developers, said he understands city officials are trying to move away from residential building in areas zoned as IBD, or integrated business district, which he said is one of the "moving parts" the developers would need to address.

The homes would be valued to sell at upward of $350,000, according to the representatives.

Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck seemed excited about the idea, saying it is "much better" than the original commercial use proposed.

She said the plan is in line with the city's vision of "smart growth" development, although she advised developers to "be prepared for two exits" onto Route 22.

More jobs... but

Federal military base closing and realignment the last decade shifted thousands of civilian government jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground, along with thousands more jobs with contractors who are tied to the Army post's huge research, development, electronics and communications missions.

The contractor job increases were in turn expected to spur a demand for more office space, and several office park developments were planned in and around Aberdeen. Three years ago, the county's top economic development official said 1 million square feet of office space had either been built or was planned to accommodate the BRAC boom.

While a handful of those developments have become reality and appear to be prospering, other plans have floundered. As the BRAC round affecting Aberdeen ended three years ago, county officials admitted the number of new jobs fell several thousand short of what they had projected.

The proposed technology center whose developers now want to shift from office space to houses, is about two miles east on Route 22 from another office/technology park, between I-95 and the main gate at APG, that was going to have at least 95,000 square feet of offices. The project hasn't started.

Developers of another proposed technology park along I-95 south of Aberdeen, in the Creswell area, later came back to Harford County with revised plans to focus on extended stay housing for contractors, rather than offices. Plans for offices near Aberdeen's Ripken Stadium, once touted is a prime location, also haven't materialized.

$13.6 billion at APG

The value of contracts at APG fell by 13 percent last year, according to a Baltimore Sun report in January, although post contracts were still valued at $13.6 billion in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013.

Earlier this month, Harford County Economic Development Director Jim Richardson said he is concerned that smaller defense budgets and other curbs on federal spending are likely to negatively affect APG and the local economy, as could a future base closing and realignment process that might take jobs away from the post, just as it brought them to Aberdeen a decade ago.

Hiring freezes are already in place for some activities at APG and local business leaders, who work with the county, state and the post under the auspices of a group called Army Alliance, are working to overturn federal legislation that requires significant Army staffing cuts.

New housing may be a brighter spot, or at least county officials are more bullish about its prospects.

County planning officials say permits issued for new houses hit their highest level five years in 2013, and they are expecting that trend to continue, although that demand appears to have little direct relationship to activities at APG.

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