xml:space="preserve">
“There is no secret agenda here. It’s been part of our economic development objective since day one,” Harford County Director of Administration Billy Boniface says of a proposal to change zoning rules for a 111-acre tract near I-95 and Route 543 when development has stalled.
“There is no secret agenda here. It’s been part of our economic development objective since day one,” Harford County Director of Administration Billy Boniface says of a proposal to change zoning rules for a 111-acre tract near I-95 and Route 543 when development has stalled. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO / Baltimore Sun)

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman's administration is trying to revive the stalled development of a 111-acre property near the I-95 and Route 543 interchange southeast of Bel Air.

Residents, County Council members and land use advocates, however, criticized the proposal at a Tuesday night hearing, arguing such a change should not be made outside of the scheduled master planning process.

Advertisement

Concerns were also about less desirable development coming into the area.

The administration is sponsoring changes in the zoning law to allow "retail, recreational, hotel, residential and service" uses within the site's mixed office, or MO, zoning classification.

The council approved tax-increment financing for the proposed James Run Corporate Campus in 2012, but the developer has since let that approval expire, Council President Richard Slutzky said.

County Director of Administration Billy Boniface told the council the original idea of a research-centered office park is no longer viable and allowing other uses on the site, once a nine-hole golf course called Bren-Mar Park, will boost economic development.

"We need economic development now. We are trying to create opportunities now. No one can see what the future is going to hold," he said.

Although the county originally wanted research and development offices, "the reality is, that has not been able to move forward in multiple places in the I-95 corridor in this area. It's been saturated," Boniface said.

The legislation put forward by Glassman, which the council did not vote on Tuesday, would allow for mixed-use development with a wider scope of permitted uses than what the existing MO designation permits.

To that end, the bill proposes shared parking lots to promote a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere and proposes letting the Department of Planning and Zoning review the project in accordance with a mixed-office design manual.

Boniface said jump-starting the James Run site development is one of Glassman's original economic goals.

Contrary to popular belief, the site is inside the county's development envelope, the area the county targets for development, Boniface said.

The administration is comfortable proposing the legislation outside of the regular comprehensive planning process because the James Run site is the only area zoned MO in the county, Boniface said.

"There is no secret agenda here," he said. "It's been part of our economic development objective since day one."

Glassman would also not support tax increment financing for the site, added Boniface, who was president of the County Council when the current MO law was adopted and when the previous TIF, under which developers can use bonds backed by property tax revenue generated by their project to build roads, utilities and other infrastructure, was approved. Both generated considerable public controversy.

Councilman Chad Shrodes said he would like to see how changing the zoning parameters would fit into the broader vision for the county.

Councilman Curtis Beulah agreed, saying new development might displace existing businesses in the Creswell-Riverside area near the site or bring lower-quality jobs and housing that existing residents do not want.

Several residents criticized the proposal.

John Mallamo, a Bel Air resident, said the developers were inept and missed the boat on the project.

Advertisement

Floria Svitak, a Creswell resident, said he believes residents think the site is outside the development envelope and the county should give them a chance to fully review the zoning change during the regular land use review process.

Bill Wehland, a Bel Air resident, said he believes the plan radically changes the purpose and intent of the MO zoning district.

"It is inappropriate, it is untimely and it is in direct violation of the purpose and intent of the zoning code," Wehland said.

Morita Bruce, representing Friends of Harford the county's most influential land use advocacy organization, said the group believes "this bill is just a way to keep the James Run project alive."

Both she and Wehland said the bill benefits the landowner and developers unfairly, and Bruce said it proposes development that will not create the type of jobs that will uniquely benefit from the I-95 location.

"This is not positive economic development," she said, arguing the change is likely to just shift jobs around by disenfranchising existing area businesses.

"The county seems to be bending over backwards for the obviously well-connected investors of James Run," Bruce said.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement