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The Aegis
Harford County

Neighbors decry proposed Havre de Grace incentive for Greenway Farms development

Havre de Grace officials are developing an ordinance to spur home building in the Greenway Farms subdivision by reducing water and sewer connection fees, an incentive that does not sit well with the people who live in the neighboring Bulle Rock community who expressed their concerns during the most recent City Council meeting.

"We feel like we've been left out of the loop," Ray Schlissler, of Bulle Rock, said of an ordinance that includes a provision for a connector road between Bulle Rock and Martha Lewis Boulevard in Greenway Farms that would provide access to Route 40.

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The plan for the second and third phases of the three-phase, 690-unit development, which is being built on land annexed by the city in 2004, calls for 20 apartment buildings containing 536 units, as well as the connector road, according to the draft ordinance. Southern Land Co. Inc. is the developer.

Townhouse units were built during the first phase of construction in Greenway Farms, but the development, along with new home construction elsewhere in the city, languished during the 2008 and 2009 recession, and the housing market in Havre de Grace and Harford County continues to lag. According to a Harford County Planning Department summary of building activity released last month, only about 70 townhouses and 50 multifamily units have been built or received permits in Greenway Farms, which was originally planned for 300 townhouses and 376 multifamily units.

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The city's standard water and sewer capital cost recovery fee for a single-family house is $21,200, or $10,600 for an apartment.

The proposed ordinance calls for lowering the fee to $6,000 per apartment. The developer must pay it in a "lump sum," depending on the size of the apartment building.

The developer would have to pay $192,000 for a 32-unit, four-story building, or $144,000 for a 24-unit, three-story building, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance was presented to the council members for a first reading during their Dec. 15 meeting, which was the last council meeting of 2014.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2015, and the developer will make a presentation about the second and third phases.

Bulle Rock residents packed the City Council chambers, and there were so many attending that several people stood outside the doorway listening to the public comments.

Residents gave their views during the regular portion of the meeting set aside for public comments.

They said they are concerned about the Greenway Farms developers receiving a discount on water and sewer capital cost recovery fees when they and other Havre de Grace homeowners have had to pay the full fee.

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City officials have also proposed reducing water and sewer fees to spur development of the Scenic Manor subdivision, which is also near Bulle Rock.

Ben Martorana, who was recently elected as the community representative to the Bulle Rock Board of Directors, said residents are concerned "that puts us at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to the selling and re-selling of homes."

Those commenting also objected to what they described as a lack of communication from city officials concerning the connector road that could cause traffic problems in Bulle Rock, and developers possibly getting reduced connection fees at the same time city officials weigh utility rate increases to cover budget gaps in the water and sewer funds.

Havre de Grace leaders were weighing a 15 to 20 percent increase in water and sewer rates while preparing the fiscal 2015 budget during the winter and spring of 2014, an increase that was eventually lowered to 5 percent.

David Meiners, a representative of the Bulle Rock developer MTBR LLC and a member of the community's board of directors, suggested postponing the public hearing to early February so residents could gather more information "to understand the best decisions possible for the city and the residents of Bulle Rock."

Mayor Wayne Dougherty, who pledged that there will be communication from his administration to residents, said another public hearing could be held after the one in January.

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"That gives an advantage for everyone to do their homework," he said.

Council members, the mayor and City Attorney Paul Ishak stressed the need to spur home building to bring in more revenue from the connection fees and new utility customers, especially when the city must cover millions of dollars in debt for the construction of its wastewater treatment plant.

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"It costs money to have such an incredible facility," Ishak said.

Council President Bill Martin said officials "can't sit back on our thumbs" and hope new homes will be built.

"Sometimes, when you cut costs, people spend more, do more," Councilman Steve Gamatoria said.

Martin and Ishak said the city will work to address Bulle Rock residents' concerns.

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"Bulle Rock will always be our first-born child," Martin said.

The council president said later in the meeting it is possible there will be more opportunities for public comment besides the Jan. 5 hearing.

"We'll put one into motion for the next council meeting and see where it goes," Martin said.


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