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Plan for 29 apartments on Gordon Street site approved by Bel Air Planning Commission

Bel Air's Planning Commission has approved a revised redevelopment plan for 29 apartments on the Bel Air Academy site on West Gordon Street. The existing building will be renovated and a new one built on the site, with the two conneted by a skyway.
Bel Air's Planning Commission has approved a revised redevelopment plan for 29 apartments on the Bel Air Academy site on West Gordon Street. The existing building will be renovated and a new one built on the site, with the two conneted by a skyway. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

John Zoulis finally has received the green light from the Town of Bel Air to proceed with redeveloping the historic Bel Air Academy on West Gordon Street as an apartment community, nearly two years after he purchased the property at public auction.

"We're going to move forward and proceed to the finalization of this project," Zoulis, president of Linthicum-based Zoulis Properties, said Monday, although he still has several months of work to do before actual construction can begin.

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The plans, which were revised from a 32-unit complex to 29 units, were approved by the town Planning Commission Thursday night.

"It's a new concept proposed from the previous one, so the board was pretty happy to see those changes," Zoulis said.

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The general concept of redeveloping the existing academy building with apartments and constructing a new apartment building next door remains the same as was presented to the town's Board of Appeals last fall, but the number of units has been cut by three and the size of the new building has been reduced.

Property developer John Zoulis does not plan to walk away from his efforts to redevelop the former Bel Air Academy, despite the recent withdrawal of his request to rezone the property at 45 E. Gordon St.

The two buildings will be connected by a skyway, according to Zoulis.

The appeals board denied the developer's application for a height variance during a meeting in October of 2015. Zoulis and the architects and engineers working with him proposed a four-story, 55-foot-high building next to the former school building. The site, which is about an acre, is bordered by Bel Air Elementary School and separated by an alley from the Historical Society of Harford County's headquarters.

The two-story academy building at 45 E. Gordon St. opened during the 1880s and has been vacant nearly a decade. It served as a Harford County Public Schools headquarters for more than 50 years before the current headquarters opened in 2007 and was declared surplus by the county government, which owned the site, in 2014. Zoulis had the top bid of $101,000 for the property at the February 2015 auction.

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The property is within a B-2A zone on the Bel Air town zoning map. Residential buildings are limited to three stories and 45 feet in that zone.

During last year's hearing, appeals board members and neighboring residents and business owners said they were concerned the new apartment building would overshadow the academy.

Under the current design, the new building is slightly lower in height than the existing academy, according to Zoulis and Kevin Small, Bel Air's planning director.

"It's much lower than it was [before]," Small said Monday.

Zoulis said the new plans garnered support from community organizations in town, such as the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, the Bel Air Elementary School PTA and the Historical Society of Harford County.

A celebration of Bel Air High School's 200 years of service to its community shows just how much the school has meant to those who have attended it.

"Everybody's on board so far," Zoulis said.

Zoulis is working with the historical society to craft a memorandum of understanding that would allow tenants to park in a section of the lot behind the society's building.

There will be 73 parking spaces, with 44 on the academy property and 29 at the historical society, according to Small. The alley separating the properties belongs to another property owner, however.

Zoulis previously had applied for a parking variance, as well, but the appeals board declined to consider one after denying the building height variance. With fewer apartments planned, a parking variance is no longer necessary.

The developer estimates it will be another six to eight months before construction starts as he goes through the approval processes and the interior designs are completed.

Zoulis must apply to the town for a building permit and grading permit, according to Small. The applications will be reviewed by town and Harford County staff.

Small noted that county staff review applications to the town for matters such as engineering, sediment and erosion control, electrical and plumbing work, although the town has final approval.



Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.

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