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Residents oppose warehouse development plan near Route 24/I-95 interchange in Abingdon

Abingdon resident Jacqui Santiago, left, urges property owner Tom Huber to re-evaluate his plans to build about 2.5 million square feet of warehouse and commercial space at the Route 24/I-95 interchange.
Abingdon resident Jacqui Santiago, left, urges property owner Tom Huber to re-evaluate his plans to build about 2.5 million square feet of warehouse and commercial space at the Route 24/I-95 interchange. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A proposal to build more than 2.4 million square feet of warehouse, commercial and retail space near the Route 24/Interstate 95 interchange in Abingdon faced strong opposition from residents Tuesday.

An estimated 150 to 170 people filled a room at the Abingdon Fire Company’s main firehouse for a community input meeting, according to fire company members. So many people attended that the parking lot filled up, and people parked on the shoulder and walked across the two-lane road.

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Frank Graves, who lives on Van Bibber Road, called the project “a disgrace” and said it will directly affect him.

“The love of money is the root of all evil here; you all can sit here in your suits and business [attire] but that doesn’t intimidate me at all,” Graves said, addressing developers seated at the front of the room.

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“I’m going to do everything in my power — as I’m sure the community is — to stop this,” he continued. “You all can build somewhere else.”

More than 50 residents attended a Harford County Development Advisory Committee meeting this week to voice their displeasure with planned developments on Route 543.

The group Graves addressed included property owner Tom Huber, of Harford Investors, the group that has owned the land since 1986. Huber told Graves that he understands his and others’ concerns, but acknowledged the challenge of giving Graves “a good answer that you want to hear.”

Several speakers urged Huber to develop in another part of the county, such as a location with developed but unused industrial space, or shut it down entirely. Huber declined to acquiesce to those demands, but he talked with people after the meeting and pledged to work with the community.

“We’ll try to work with the [engineering] professionals ... and figure out a path forward,” he said, stressing that it is still early in the approval process.

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Community impacts

Developers plan to build a combined 2.4 million square feet of “warehouse/flex” space, plus another 97,400 square feet for commercial, retail and food service businesses, on 326 acres just southeast of the Route 24/I-95 interchange. The land is zoned for commercial/industrial use, according to initial plans posted on the Harford County government website.

The wooded site between I-95 and Route 7 is surrounded by light residential development and the cluster of hotels and restaurants — including the Richlin Catering & Event Center — at Route 24 and Edgewood Road. William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School, off of Route 7, is also nearby.

Nearly four years after he purchased the historic Bel Air Academy building at auction, property owner John Zoulis can move ahead with plans to redevelop the site with apartments and townhouses.

The Haha Branch stream runs through the property, and a number of residents expressed concerns about flooding being exacerbated, noting flooding already happens along Route 7 and on existing residential properties when it rains.

People also had concerns about increased traffic, especially from tractor-trailers; noise and bright lights emanating from industrial buildings; and the potential harm to wildlife.

The warehouse space would be spread over multiple buildings on eight lots, the largest being 1.05 million square feet, followed by the second-largest, 570,000 square feet. The other buildings range in size from 304,500 to 25,000 square feet, according to the proposed plan.

A ninth lot would have the retail, commercial and restaurant buildings, according to the plan.

Vehicle access to the site would be via Edgewood Road, with a road within the site running from the intersection of Edgewood and Van Bibber, across the property to Abingdon Road, according to Paul Muddiman, of the Abingdon-based architecture, planning and engineering firm Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc.

Muddiman and Amy DiPietro, also of Morris & Ritchie, presented the plans and responded to audience questions and comments. They stressed that the project, which could be built over 10 to 20 years, is still in the early stages and described the multiple approvals needed from county, state and federal agencies before construction can happen.

Neighbors opposed

The plan shows buildings close to residential areas, such as the Autumn Run community off of Route 7, although there are wooded buffers between the industrial buildings and homes.

But many neighbors, including people who live in Autumn Run, loudly opposed the plans.

Conrad’s Seafood Restaurant in Harford County is hoping to open in the former OC Brewing Co. in the Boulevard at Box Hill Shopping Center.

“I cannot imagine putting this mammoth business park in,” said Beth Shepard, who lives on Pumpkin Patch Court and has been in Autumn Run since 2011.

“We’re already dealing with traffic issues, as you’ve already heard everybody talk about,” she said. “I can’t imagine — with all of this, it’s going to be 10 times as much traffic.”

Jacqui Santiago and her boyfriend, Warren Harrison, who both live on Red Maple Drive near the highway interchange, made appeals against the project.

Santiago spoke directly to Huber, the property owner, near the end of the meeting. She urged him to take what members of the community had said into consideration and rethink the project.

“If they don’t like your project, then you’re not working with us,” she said. “You need to go and re-evaluate what you’re doing with the land and think of something that is, economically, going to make yourselves money and [the neighbors] happy. That’s all they want.”

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