A resolution to expand Harford County’s Edgewood/Joppa Enterprise Zone — including land slated for the proposed Abingdon Business Park warehouse project — was approved by the County Council on a 6-1 vote Tuesday.
Councilman Andre Johnson, who represents the Joppa and Edgewood areas, cast the dissenting vote.
Johnson said he believes enterprise zones — select areas where developers can receive tax credits on projects involving job creation and capital investment — are “beneficial for Harford County,” but he expressed concern that the 337-acre expansion in Resolution 007-19 largely supports the proposed Abingdon Business Park near the Route 24/I-95 interchange.
The owners and developers of the 326-acre Abingdon Business Park site just south of I-95 — Harford Investors LLP, of Linthicum, and CREG Westport 1 LLC, of Hanover — are seeking county approval to create nine lots for retail, commercial and industrial use. Those uses include more than 2 million square feet of warehouse space. The property is zoned for commercial and industrial use.
About 1,000 permanent jobs are expected to be created, a representative for the developers said during a recent county Development Advisory Committee hearing on the project.
Several council members who supported the resolution, including Council President Patrick Vincenti, described expanding the enterprise zone as a way to enhance economic growth along Route 40 in Harford County. They cited significant growth happening in Cecil County’s Route 40 corridor thanks to enterprise zones and opportunity zones available there.
Vincenti described how the issue of creating jobs in the I-95 and Route 40 corridors in Harford came up during a recent meeting between him and members of the Harford County Caucus of African-American Leaders and how the opportunities being created in Cecil could be replicated in Harford.
“The revenue that these projects would generate help us with school funding,” Vincenti said. “They help us with funding for our public safety, and they help us with road improvements and things of that nature.”
Johnson said “creating and filling jobs is in my district is a priority of mine.”
“The Abingdon Business Park, to my knowledge, is going to be built on speculation,” he noted, saying it is unknown which tenants will come to the park, the types of jobs that would be created, how long it will take to attract tenants and how long it will take to create the jobs.
“We have vacant warehouses and office spaces currently in the enterprise zone,” Johnson said. “We have buildings that have taken advantage of the enterprise zone tax credit sitting empty or half full.”
Harford County has two enterprise zones serving Edgewood and Joppa and the Aberdeen and Havre de Grace area. A 10-year real property tax credit is available, worth 80 percent on increased values for the first five years — it goes down by 10 percent annually for the next five years.
The county also offers either a one-time $1,000 income tax credit for every new job created or a three-year $6,000 per-employee credit for hiring “economically-disadvantaged” workers, according to the county website.
Opponents to the project, including many people who live around the wooded Abingdon Business Park site, have packed prior public meetings to express concerns about the potential for disruption from excess noise and traffic and degradation of the site’s environmental features such as wetlands.
Opponents in the council chambers in Bel Air Tuesday night audibly expressed their surprise and disgust as Johnson’s colleagues explained why they had struggled over their decision but ultimately supported the resolution.
“It’s been a hard one; it’s been a really hard one to look at on here,” Councilman Joe Woods said.
Several council members had expressed concerns to leaders of the county’s Office of Community and Economic Development as they made their presentation during a public hearing on the resolution last week. Director Leonard Parrish stressed the resolution is meant to expand the enterprise zone to include all business parks along I-95 and Route 40 and that “any particular project should be separated out of this discussion.”
Councilman Robert Wagner said Tuesday that he had planned to vote against the resolution, but his views changed after meeting with Parrish and Billy Boniface, director of administration for County Executive Barry Glassman, the preceding day.
Wagner said voting to expand the enterprise zone does not “give a green light” for any project and that “there’s a lot of hurdles to be overcome before it moves ahead.”
He emphasized that something of a commercial or industrial nature will be built on the CI-zoned land.
“Sadly, you’re going to get something there, and we’re trying to craft something that is desirable and provides employment opportunities,” Wagner said.
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Councilman Curtis Beulah said he talked with many people, including his constituents, as he weighed his decision.
“I feel there’s a window of opportunity now and the Route 40 corridor, in my opinion, has been neglected for decades,” he said. “We have to balance it, being business-friendly as well as constituent-friendly.”
Claims of economic and job growth did not convince opponents of the Abingdon Business Park, though.
“Today, this council sides with developers, not citizens, with the exception of Councilman Johnson,” Tracey Waite, of Harford County Climate Action, said after the vote was taken. She and a number of other spectators stood and walked out of the council chambers.
Dave Karczmarek, who lives in the Philadelphia Station community near the business park site, noted during the public comment portion of the meeting that the property is not in the vicinity of Route 40.
He also acknowledged the many Harford County Public Schools teachers, students and supporters who spoke earlier, pleading with the council to fully fund the Board of Education’s fiscal 2020 budget request and avoid position cuts proposed to help balance that budget.
“The way to get [that funding] is not putting this albatross and taking over 300 acres of wetlands and just destroying it, and once this thing goes in we can’t get it out,” Karczmarek said.