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Owners of Harford properties slated for rezoning face more opposition from neighbors

Property owners who are seeking Harford County approval to change the zoning of their land faced more opposition from their neighbors Tuesday during the second community input meeting in the county's comprehensive zoning process.

Chief among concerns raised were rezonings sought by proprty owners in Abingdon and Forest Hill, the area south of Aberdeen and the area along Route 1 in Bel Air involving the Bel Air Auto Auction properties.

More than 50 people spoke during a two-hour meeting in the Bel Air High School auditorium, and many expressed concerns similar to those raised at comprehensive zoning meeting in Edgewood two weeks earlier.

The five-member citizen Planning Advisory Board hosted both meetings. The board makes recommendations to the county executive and County Council on each of the 115 pending applications for rezoning. The council will have the final say when comprehensive zoning, which happens every eight years, concludes this fall.

"I hope that you, the [Planning Advisory Board], won't sell out to the wishes of greedy developers," Abingdon resident Tom Trafton said, as he read his prepared remarks. "It is time to hold them accountable for the quality of life they are destroying and for the negative impact they foist upon our environment."

Trafton expressed his opposition to applications to rezone a combined 7.65 acres off of Laurel Bush Road in Abingdon from R1 residential to R3, which would allow much denser residential use — the two parcels are west of Laurel Bush and north of Hookers Mill Road.

Trafton is also opposed to applications to rezone large tracts across Laurel Bush on the west side, including up-zoning 115.6 acres from R1 to R2 and 21.2 acres east of that property from agricultural to R2.

He fears the new development would exacerbate existing traffic issues and harm stands of forest he described as "a highly effective filtering system for Bynum Run and the Chesapeake Bay."

Edgewood resident Arthur Benser decried proposals to rezone 2.1 acres at the intersection of Philadelphia Road (Route 7) and Emmorton Road (Route 24) from RO, or residential office, to B2 commercial.

Benser, who lives in the 1200 block of Van Bibber Road, said he is about 450 feet from the properties in question.

"If they are developed, the runoff that I get — because I'm downhill from there — would be horrendous," he said.

Benser said he already has to deal with stormwater runoff water that floods his garage and back yard.

"I would just hope that you would consider the ramifications of up-zoning this property," he told PAB members.

Bernie Schweigman, of Forest Hill, and his wife Katie protested applications to up-zone neighboring property, which husband and wife noted is being used to grow corn, from rural residential to B3 commercial.

"Our front porch literally looks into this cornfield," Bernie Schweigman said.

The change would affect more than 25 acres west of Rock Spring Road and just north of Route 23.

Schweigman said he and his wife moved to Forest Hill from Baltimore County last year to get away from "heavy over-development."

Howard Klein, vice president and general counsel for the family-owned Klein's ShopRite of Maryland based in Forest Hill, expressed his concern about the up-zoning, too.

He urged board members to preserve "the village of Forest Hill, where my brothers and I grew up, where my parents spent their entire adult lives."

Preserving a historic community

Several residents of the unincorporated, historically African-American community southwest of Aberdeen, along Spesutia Road, pleaded with board members to deny an application to up-zone from R4 to General Industrial 88 acres in a residential area bordered by Old Philadelphia Road on the north end, Perryman Road at the east, Spesutia Road to the south and Route 40 to the west.

"We are here, we are a community and I represent the residents that are standing in opposition to the general industrial zoning," JoWanda Strickland-Lucas, who has lived in the community for more than 50 years, said.

She said the neighborhood includes elderly residents and young families, as well as "a wide variety of wildlife."

"Wild turkeys have been know to roam the property," she said. "Eagles can been seen soaring overhead."

The Rev. Cordell Hunter said "I didn't have the anticipation I would be engulfed by an industrial site" when he built his house in the community 25 years ago.

Hunter said he is concerned about traffic that is "already tremendous and terrible," especially for school buses.

Joe Carter, who is married with two children, said he moved to the Spesutia Road community three years ago from Baltimore City.

"There is enough traffic in and out of this area behind us already," he said.

Bel Air Auto Auction future

A handful of Bel Air residents expressed their opposition to a request to rezone property around the Bel Air Auto Auction's Baltimore Pike facility from R1 to B3.

The Auto Auction's parent company, BSC America, is preparing to move to a larger facility in Riverside that is currently under construction. The company will consolidate its administrative and corporate offices for operations such as auto auctions, real estate auctions, auto support services and financial services on a 175-acre site off of Route 7.

The new facility should be open "in the next few months," Bel Air attorney Jacqueline Delisle, who represents BSC America and is listed as the applicant for the rezoning, wrote in an email Tuesday.

The rezoning requests affect four acres that are part of a 13.6-acre property occupied by the existing auto auction. The remainder of the property is already zoned B3.

BSC America acquired, though one of its property investment companies, two residential properties next door in recent years. The single-family houses on those two acres are rental properties, according to Delisle.

She said the residential properties can be used "for certain accessory purposes for the benefit of the adjacent B3 parcels." The auto auction's Route 1 properties are outside the Bel Air town limits, which end at Tollgate Road.

"Rezoning the properties to B-3 would permit a user to incorporate those parcels as part of an integrated development plan, or simply to continue the current use," Delisle explained.

She said BSC America plans to maintain some operations in Bel Air and its Clayton Station facility in Edgewood once the move to Riverside is completed.

"At such time that BSC elects to discontinue those uses, the property, or portions of it may be sold to a third party and at that point, any future user would develop the property in compliance with the Zoning Code," Delisle wrote.

She described as "untrue" any reports that a specific user or use for the site has been chosen, or that any deal has been made with a potential user of the property.

Speakers at Tuesday's meeting were opposed to any intense future use for the site, which is in a heavily-traveled commercial section of Route 1.

Alma Illian, who lives in the Bel Air Acres community off of Route 1 near the auto auction expressed fears about increased air and water pollution new commercial development could generate in the area, especially with Maryland American Water — the primary drinking water supplier to the Town of Bel Air — building a massive water storage facility nearby.

"If you must rezone the Bel Air Auto Auction land, please rezone it R1 or better yet, have the owners make the land open space to compensate for the selling of Mt Soma," Illian said, referring to the historic Route 1 farm on which a large apartment complex has been built.

Bel Air Acres resident Catherine Mateer questioned the notion of protecting only the property rights of the owners who have applied for rezoning and not the rights of their neighbors "who are impacted, usually negatively, by the zoning changes."

"Please listen to those who want the county to stay rural and quiet and safe," she told advisory board members.

At least one speaker was in favor of a proposed rezoning. David Springham, owner of 1.63 acres in the 1800 block of Rock Spring Road in Forest Hill, is seeking approval to up-zone the property from R2 to residential office.

He said he has heard interest from professionals such as doctors in using the property, but "we can't do it because it's not zoned properly" for professional use.

Springham noted it would be ideal for a doctor's office or legal office.

"There is ample space for parking," he said.

The county's planning and zoning department and the planning advisory board will spend the spring and summer making their recommendations on each rezoning request, which will be part of a director's report submitted to the County Council.

The council will hold public hearings later this year and then vote on each request, according to a county government web page on the comprehensive zoning.

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