Traffic issues must be resolved for Eva-Mar development near Bel Air, county says

Developers, state and county still working out traffic mitigation for Eva-Mar development near Bel Air

More than a year after it was proposed, a plan to build single-family houses and a large continuing care retirement community on a former farm east of Bel Air has the majority of the necessary Harford County approvals to proceed.

But county and state officials and the developers say they are still trying to work through traffic mitigation issues, which much occur before any construction can begin.

"The developer has done the required traffic analysis and proposed mitigations," county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said Tuesday. "They have proposed mitigations, as they're required to do."

Mumby said county officials told developers last week, however, "that some of their proposals are unacceptable to resolve the traffic issues, and we have asked for them to do additional analysis and look at alternatives."

Elm Street Development, of McLean, Va., has a contract to purchase the 152-acre Eva-Mar farm off Route 543 for the development of 144 single-family houses and a 514-unit continuing care retirement community, or CCRC.

Mumby said county officials have approved the forest conservation plan for the property and they have "no objection" to the landscaping plan.

"There can be no preliminary plan approval for the single-family homes and no site plan approval for the CCRC until the traffic mitigation issue has been resolved," she said. "We have an obligation to ensure the developer follows the code and follows the process."

Elm Street plans to sell a 47-acre portion of the property to Presbyterian Home of Maryland, of Towson, which would operate the retirement community. Presbyterian Home operates a 100-bed assisted living and nursing community in Towson.

The retirement community proposed for Bel Air would be called Carsins Run at Eva Mar. Presbyterian Home tried to build a CCRC, called the Village of Carsins Run, near Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen in 2011, but the project was canceled after developers and city officials could not come to an agreement on tax incentives.

The latest version of the project has been controversial since public meetings began in January 2014.

Residents, especially those who live in the subdivisions around the Eva Mar farm, are concerned about adding more traffic to the already-congested Route 543 corridor, the impact on area schools and potential negative environmental impacts.

Mumby said there have been three issues "in particular" regarding traffic mitigation, including the main access to the retirement community from the intersection of Route 543 and Sparta Court, the intersection of Amyclae Drive and Route 543, which is the entrance to the Amyclae East community just south of the farm and the intersection of Route 22 and Route 543.

"The proposals that they've [brought] to us are not going to be acceptable to us in keeping with the code and the requirement that the impact of the development be mitigated," she said.

Neighbors who have spoken during community input meetings and hearings before the county's Development Advisory Committee have expressed numerous concerns about the traffic impact, especially with the busy Route 543 and Route 22 intersection about half a mile south of the farm.

C. Milton Wright High School is also about a mile north of the farm along Route 543.

Mumby said the developers and the county both want a traffic signal at the site access area at Route 543 and Sparta Court, but she noted the State Highway Administration has the final say on that.

Regarding the proposals offered to mitigate impacts at the other two intersections, Mumby said county officials do not think they "would resolve the issues and bring the intersections back up to the level of service where they need to be."

Bel Air attorney Joseph Snee, who has been representing the developers and is listed as a Presbyterian Home board member, said representatives of the Abingdon engineering firm Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc., Traffic Concepts Inc., of Hanover, which has been conducting the required traffic studies, the county and SHA have been "working on the resolution of those issues."

"Typically that's the last thing there's a resolution on in the site plan approval process," Snee said.

Developers said during a county Development Advisory Board hearing in August 2014 that they projected breaking ground this year, having the first single-family homes occupied in late 2016 and the first phase of the retirement community open in late 2017.

Snee said Tuesday, however, that a date for breaking ground has not been established.

"Until you get your approvals in place, there's no way for us to predict that right now," he said.

Byron Hawley, who lives in the neighboring Tudor Manor community, said area residents are in "a watchful, waiting mode" regarding the development.

Hawley said he is extremely concerned about how traffic from the CCRC could affect residents of Sparta Court, and he noted "they can't make a left turn out of their development right now."

"Without a stoplight, some major intersection there, they're really screwed," he said.

Hawley called the Eva-Mar farm "just a horrible location for a mixed-density development."

Developers have said the site was selected for its proximity to the town of Bel Air and local medical facilities such as the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, its location in the county's development envelope and access to public water and sewer.

Hawley praised the developers' commitment to building sidewalks along the Eva-Mar frontage along Route 543, and he said he wants to see bike paths and sidewalks linking not just Eva-Mar, but also the other existing and proposed residential developments for the 543 corridor.

"You shouldn't have to wait for 42 new developments to be completed before a child can ride their bike to school, or people who reside in those communities [would] be able to walk to neighboring communities and businesses, or bike to businesses," he said.

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