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Harford, Bel Air leaders, developers want to spur affordable housing, overall development in county seat

A plan for an apartment complex has been proposed for the vacant lot at the corner of of Bond Street and Rt. 22 in Bel Air. The complex would have indoor parking and mixed retail at street level.
A plan for an apartment complex has been proposed for the vacant lot at the corner of of Bond Street and Rt. 22 in Bel Air. The complex would have indoor parking and mixed retail at street level. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

Harford County officials are seeking public input as they prepare their annual action plan for fiscal 2017, a plan that lays out how the county and its three municipalities will work to improve housing for low and moderate-income residents, as well as infrastructure in those communities, during the coming fiscal year.

County leaders expect Harford will receive $1.2 million in federal funds next year "to address housing and community development needs in our low-to-moderate-income households and communities," Len Parrish, the county's director of housing and community development, told the Bel Air town Board of Town Commissioners Monday evening.

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Bel Air officials, meanwhile, continue to look at initiatives that will spur both residential and commercial growth in town that will attract both millennials and seniors.

Each municipality, Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace, will get a portion of that money, which comes through the Community Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships Program. Both programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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Bel Air is slated to get $36,084 in CDBG funds in fiscal 2017, Parrish said. He noted the town typically uses those funds for infrastructure improvements, such as road paving projects, in the town's lower income neighborhoods.

"These types of activities are qualified as a low-to-moderate income area benefit," Parrish explained.

He cited recent CDBG-funded projects such as the repaving of Kelly Avenue and improvements to the George Street culvert, through which Plumtree Run flows.

The 110-page draft annual plan can be viewed at all Harford County Public Library branches, at the Housing & Community Development office at 15 S. Main St. in downtown Bel Air and online at www.harfordcountymd.gov.

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The public can give comments via email to Barbara Richardson, of Housing & Community Development, via email at bwrichardson@harfordcountymd.gov or by calling the agency at 410-638-3045. Comments can be submitted until midnight, Tuesday, May 10, Parrish said.

The annual plan includes strategies to preserve and promote affordable housing in the county, increase services to the homeless with a new cold-weather shelter for adults and a new emergency shelter for families where women and children can stay, as well as rehabilitating dwellings where people with developmental or physical disabilities live.

Additional goals include a continued partnership with the municipalities to improve infrastructure, administering federal grants and greater outreach efforts on fair housing laws, according to the plan.

Bel Air housing growth

Community and government leaders in Bel Air are working to spur residential and commercial growth in town in order to increase the community's overall housing supply.

Fallston developer Michael Euler Sr. has been discussing with town planning officials a tentative plan to build an apartment complex, up to four-and-a-half stories high, at the corner of South Bond Street and Churchville Road. The property, which is owned by Euler, was once a gas station and is currently being used as a parking lot.

Euler expects to submit plans to the town during this summer. The complex would include a parking structure and mixed retail uses, such as a cafe, on the first level. He has a partners in the planned venture, including his lead partner in the rebuilding of the former Fallston Mall, which is in progress.

"People living in downtown centers is becoming a trend again, like it did decades ago," Euler said.

Kevin Small, Bel Air's planning director, noted the proposed apartments would be a good fit for downtown, where higher-density development is allowed under the zoning code. The site is across South Bond Street from MaGerk's Pub & Grill and a PNC Bank branch.

"It takes advantage of the downtown area," Small said of the proposal. "It's pedestrian oriented."

Civic and business leaders want to promote greater residential development in the town, as well as commercial, as indicated in a recent real estate market study commissioned by the Bel Air Downtown Alliance.

The 102-page study was prepared for the Alliance by Camoin Associates, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The study was discussed in some detail by town officials when it was presented to them during a March retreat by Craig Ward, the alliance's president.

Ward said the study findings suggest an untapped market for both millennials and empty nest couples who could be attracted to settle in Bel Air, if the town has the necessary amenities.

More than 30 sites were identified in the study for housing, medical offices, businesses geared toward entertainment and retail shops.

Recommendations include working with Harford Community College to develop student housing in town, since there are no residence halls on campus, strategic annexation of sites on the town borders for development, such as the current home of the Bel Air Auto Auction on Route 1 – the business is slated to move to a new facility under construction in Riverside – as well as commercial development on the "numerous underutilized parcels" along North Main Street and Route 1.

"The market analysis revealed that there is a tremendous opportunity to build on the strengths of the community and elevate the town into a vibrant arts and entertainment destination, while maintaining the town's character and attractive qualities, including single-family homes and green space," according to the study's introduction.

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