Havre de Grace residents, many of them from the Bulle Rock community, filled every seat in the City Council chambers to say their piece Monday about a proposed city ordinance that, if approved, would reduce water and sewer connection fees for the developers of the neighboring Greenway Farm apartment community.
The crowd was so big, some people clustered at both doorways because there was no other place to sit or stand.
The connection fee reduction turned out to be a secondary concern, however, as several people expressed their displeasure with a proposed road linking the two communities and with the fact that the neighboring community will be getting so much rental housing.
The residents loudly voiced their displeasure when Mayor Wayne Dougherty announced shortly before the public hearing began that, with three of six council members absent, there was no quorum to hold a meeting.
Council members John Correri, Randy Craig and Dave Glenn were absent. Two were sick and one had work commitments, Dougherty explained.
The mayor said residents would still have a chance to speak, however, and hear a presentation from the developers in a town hall-style meeting.
The rest of Monday's City Council agenda, postponed to the next meeting scheduled for Jan. 20, was the formal public hearing on the Greenway legislation. To accommodate the expected crowd, that meeting will be held at the Havre de Grace Community Center at 100 Lagaret Lane off Route 155.
David Weiner, a Bulle Rock resident, suggested holding the next meeting at a larger venue, citing the spillover crowd at both entrances to the council chambers.
"There are about 100 people in the hallway that you're probably not aware of," Weiner told the mayor.
Audience members said little about lowering the utility connection fees, which city officials have said is necessary to spur residential development in Havre de Grace.
Ben Martorana, the community representative to the Bulle Rock Board of Directors, said residents there are not opposed to lowering connection fees for Greenway Farm.
"We're simply seeking commensurate treatment," he said.
The connection fees would be lowered to $6,000, according to the proposed ordinance. The standard connection fee for an apartment in Havre de Grace is $10,600.
Many speakers expressed concerns about the proposed connector road between Greenway Farm and Bulle Rock, called Zachman Road, along with the likelihood of filling all 690 proposed apartments, condominiums and townhouses, increased traffic in Bulle Rock, the potential for low-income renters and the impact on local schools.
Some speakers asked the developers' representatives if they could guarantee the units would not be rented to low-income residents and that federal housing vouchers would not be accepted.
"I'm not against renters – we've all been there – but when you're spending a lot of money [for your home], you want some insurance that it's not going to go downhill tomorrow," Cheryl Mezzadra, of Bulle Rock, said.
About 70 townhouses and 50 multi-family units have either been built or permits have been issued for their construction so far, according to city officials.
Christopher Mink, of the Forest Hill engineering and surveying firm CNA, showed the audience the multiple amenities that are expected to come with the luxury units, such as at least two community centers, swimming pools, gyms, patios, open space, pet walking areas and even stations to charge electric vehicles.
"We like to include all the amenities we can on these [projects]," Mink said.
He said the Greenway Farm residences are similar to a luxury apartment complex built in Aberdeen by The Southern Land Company, of Baltimore, which is also the developer for Greenway Farm.
Mink said The Yards at Fieldside Village, which is in the 800 block of Long Drive near Ripken Stadium, is "a great example of what these guys can do and what we'd like to see out at Greenway."
Ronald Schaftel, a representative of Southern Land, said the Greenway Farm units would not be eligible for housing vouchers since the project is privately funded.
He said units at Fieldside Village rent for $1,200 to $1,700 per month, and that about 80 percent of the tenants have come to Aberdeen through the BRAC process involving the growth of Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"Based on the success that we're having next to Ripken Stadium, there is a demand," Schaftel explained in response to a question about why the developers decided to build apartment units rather than single-family homes.
Residents took city officials to task about Zachman Road, which would be designed as a one-way route to ensure there are two emergency exits from Bulle Rock. The connector road would also tie into Martha Lewis Boulevard in Greenway Farm for access to Route 40.
"We, in essence, have two very large developments that are independent of each other," City Attorney Paul Ishak said. "From a public safety standpoint, that is a huge concern."
Speakers, however, said they feared the connecting road would be used as a cut-through route, that they would lose their privacy in Bulle Rock. Some said they were frustrated with what they described as a lack of communication from city officials over the years as to whether the road would be built or not.
One man even accused city officials of not being straight with Bulle Rock residents about Zachman Road, although he later apologized to Dougherty for his remarks.
The mayor said he was glad the meeting turned out the way it did, despite angry comments from residents. He pledged to keep up communication with residents.
Council President Bill Martin, who was there along with Councilmen Fred Cullum and Stephen Gamatoria, also thanked audience members for expressing their concerns.
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"We've got a lot of work to do ahead of us," Martin said. "I'm concerned about communication issues, and I'm asking everyone in this room to stay with us. Nothing's written in stone. We're going to work this out the best we can."