Bel Air Auto Auction operators planning move to Riverside business park

The operators of the Bel Air Auto Auction are seeking county approval to establish a new facility on nearly 175 acres in a proposed business park in the Riverside area, a move that has been in the works for more than a decade.

A preliminary plan to combine four commercial lots into one 174.919-acre tract and a site plan to construct two buildings, one of 46,000 square feet and the other totaling 70,000 square feet, on the property will be presented to the members of the Harford County Development Advisory Committee during their meeting Wednesday.


The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. in the Harford County Council chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air, according to a county website.

The Auto Auction is off Route 1 (Belair Road), southwest of the intersection of Route 1 and Tollgate Road.

Although it is not in the town limits, it has been part of the greater Bel Air area for more than 60 years.

"There's things outside of our border that we still have a vested interest in," Trish Heidenreich, director of economic development for the town, said. "Any business, to us, is an important business to us, whether it's the Auto Auction or a small Main Street business."

Heidenreich noted she had not talked with the operators of the Bel Air Auto Auction, which is part of BSCAmerica, a company that also owns a similar vehicle auction in Tallahassee, Fla., and also provides other auction services, including real estate.

The firm's core focus, according to its website, is auctions of assets such as cars, trucks, boats, aircraft, real estate, even factory machines.

Company President Charles Nichols could not be reached for comment, but Jacqueline Delisle, a lawyer representing BSCAmerica, said 475 people are employed at the Bel Air site, and about 175 to 200 additional jobs would be created as a result of the move to Riverside.

She noted the county approved the use of the Riverside site for the auto auction in 2003, but the Nichols family decided not to move at the time.

"Those were simply business decisions, made not to move at that time," she explained.

She said the Nichols family owns the Riverside property and had previously agreed to provide two easements to allow for the extension of public sewer service in the area.

She said the BSCAmerica corporate offices, as well as its banking and finance operations, will likewise be moved to Riverside.

She stressed that the company owners have not sought any tax incentives from the county.

"This is an existing Harford County business, and it's going to stay local," Delisle said.

Jim Richardson, economic development director for Harford County, said the property slated as Riverside East Business Park will be developed as an addition to the existing Riverside Business Park.


"It's a good use and we're pretty excited about it, and we'll be interested in the re-use of the property here in Bel Air," Richardson said.

The Auto Auction holds auctions of vehicles each Thursday. More than 75,000 vehicles – provided by dealers of new and pre-owned vehicles, plus managers of public and private fleets – come in and out of its gates each year, according to its website.

The wooded Riverside property which could become the auto auction's new home is under the name Riverside Business Park, according to the DAC agenda.

It is on the west side of the intersection of Route 7 (Philadelphia Road) and Stepney Road. A residential community, Holly Woods, is to the north of it and the main Riverside Business Park is to the southwest.

When the auto auction presented plans to move to Riverside during a DAC meeting in March 2003, there were a number of concerns voiced by residents of the surrounding communities, including the traffic impact to Route 7, especially the prospect of more commercial vehicles, plus the potential decline of their property values.

As the auto auction grew and expanded at its Bel Air sight under the Nichols family ownership in the 1990s, neighbors complained about traffic and noise, according to news reports at the time. Company officials, however, worked to screen the operation from neighboring communities and coordinated with local police and State Police to direct traffic during the auctions, most of which are held on Thursdays.

Heidenreich noted that town and county officials strive for a "low vacancy" of commercial properties in and around Bel Air, but she also stressed the needs of the business operators must be the "No. 1" priority.

"We want to have good quality of life for the people that live here, and we want businesses to be successful and we want them to have financial abundance, but we want the people behind those businesses to do right for themselves so that's a No. 1 priority," she said.