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Friends of Harford reviews goals for 2019, honors departing co-president Morita Bruce at annual meeting

Morita Bruce, the now-former president of Friends of Harford, speaks during the organization's 2019 annual meeting Sunday at the McFaul Activities Center in Bel Air. Bruce, who has been with FOH since 2003, is moving to Texas later this year.
Morita Bruce, the now-former president of Friends of Harford, speaks during the organization's 2019 annual meeting Sunday at the McFaul Activities Center in Bel Air. Bruce, who has been with FOH since 2003, is moving to Texas later this year. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Morita Bruce, who has been involved with the Friends of Harford advocacy group for about 16 years and often been its public face when commenting on land use and development matters, has stepped down as the FOH co-president.

Bruce, a longtime Fallston resident who is moving to Texas later this year to be closer to her adult daughter, was honored for her years of service during Friends of Harford’s annual meeting Sunday afternoon.

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“There are really no words to explain the level of dedication in which she advocates for responsible land use,” co-president Stephanie Flasch said .

Flasch, who also lives in Fallston, has led the nonprofit Friends of Harford in recent years, but she will be the sole president of the organization’s board in 2019, along with Alan Sweatman, of Havre de Grace, and Bill Onorato, of Bel Air, as vice presidents and Gloria Moon, of Joppa, as treasurer.

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About 25 to 30 people attended the meeting at the McFaul Activities Center in Bel Air, during which Friends of Harford officers and board members were elected, the annual report and treasurer’s reports were presented, plus presentations were made on several land-use matters that affect Harford County residents — light pollution, preserving open space on developed properties and making it accessible to neighbors, and how citizens can gain more information on how county officials interpret the zoning code and approve projects for properties where they would not be allowed, based on citizens’ reading of the code.

“What do they really mean when there’s no definition that’s clear in the code?” asked Bruce, who made the presentation on zoning code interpretation.

She cited examples such as plans to build a pyrolysis plant to break down scrap tires for byproducts that have other industrial uses, on Auston Transfer and Processing LLC’s property in Joppa.

The Harford County Council, sitting as the Board of Appeals, voted unanimously last October to uphold a zoning hearing examiner’s decision ruling that the pyrolysis facility does not comply with with the commercial-industrial zoning for the property. The ruling of hearing examiner Robert Kahoe reversed county Planning and Zoning Director Bradley Killian’s prior finding that the facility is a permitted use in a CI district under coal and oil designations in the code.

Auston has appealed the county appeals board’s ruling in Harford County Circuit Court.

A second apartment complex is being planned at the intersection of Routes 1 and 543 in Hickory. A community input meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Bel Air Library.

Bruce discussed other examples such as apartments versus lodging houses in mixed-office zoning districts, and whether solar energy panels placed on a farm would qualify as a public utility facility or power plant, and whether that means a coal-fired power plant could be built in an agricultural zone.

She encouraged people to pay attention to the many development matters happening in Harford County and show up in person to express their concerns. Bruce noted that “more than one [county] council member has said, ‘We count bodies in seats,’ so please, participate.”

She and other Friends of Harford leaders urged people to visit the organization’s website and Facebook page, plus they can sign up for email alerts, to stay up to date.

“The County Council and county executive do make Harford land-use decisions, and their decisions do affect your quality of life so we encourage you to pay attention,” Flasch said.

“It’s how your tax dollars are spent, and you have every right to know what’s going on in the county,” she added.

People in the audience could ask questions and make comments during the meeting, as well as mingle with FOH leaders and members after the main program.

Bel Air South resident Suzanne Oshinsky brought up building more sidewalks in areas that are already developed so it is easier for residents to get to parks and recreation areas. She cited the lack of sidewalks along West Wheel Road, which makes it more dangerous for her and her family to walk from their neighborhood to Harford Glen Park.

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Oshinsky was the Democratic nominee in last year’s race for the District B seat on the County Council — she was defeated by incumbent Republican Councilman Joe Woods in the November general election.

She said this year is the second she has attended a Friends of Harford annual meeting.

“I really care about these issues, and I’m trying to find a way I can get involved,” Ohsinsky said.

Honors for Morita Bruce

Flasch, who called Bruce a “a mentor and a friend,” said Friends of Harford has made a contribution on Bruce’s behalf to the nonprofit Harford Land Trust.

Harford Land Trust, which Flasch said is “the only countywide land trust that serves a vital role in preserving our rural heritage,” has worked with its community partners to preserve more than 11,000 acres of forests, wetlands and farms since its founding in 1991, according to the land trust website.

Bruce has lived in Harford County since 1975, when she came to the county to work at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Bruce, who worked as a systems engineer, retired from APG in 2002.

She got involved with Friends of Harford starting in 2003. Her late husband Robert, who died in 2016, was the first webmaster for FOH — there is a tribute to Robert Bruce on the organization’s website.

Flasch described Morita Bruce as “the voice to all of us who call Harford home, and who have come here to live the rural life and who want to pass this on to future generations.”

“Thank you for being a leader that has shown us how to be the citizens’ voice for responsible land use,” Flasch said.

Bruce said she spent about a dozen years as FOH president or co-president — she will remain a board member as long as she remains in Harford and “as long as I can help.”

She noted how her work as a systems engineer is similar to the Friends of Harford’s work, determining how each development fits into the overall picture of growth in Harford County.

“Someone has to be looking at, how do those pieces fit together and do they fit together properly?” she said in an interview. “I do look at the big picture; I do ask what could happen if we pass this bill, what are the impacts going to be be and who is going to be impacted?”

Bruce emphasized that she is part of a group of people dedicated to the FOH mission, and each person brings a different perspective to the organization’s review of projects.

“I’m completely confident that we’ve got a great team,” she said. “This has never been a one or two-person operation.”

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