A request by Fallston-based developer Michael Euler to expand Harford County's designated growth area along Route 152 to Harford Road has touched off a new wave of opposition among some area residents.
"Keep Fallston Rural," which has been set up by 14-year Fallston residents Beth Poggioli and Stephanie Flasch, has obtained more than 770 supporters so far on ThePetitionSite.com.
The movement has come about as the county government is set to expand what is known locally as the development envelope – or designated growth area – to encompass the undeveloped 40 acres of Euler's Aumar Village property and about two-dozen existing homes along Routes 152 and 147, most of which have septic system problems, according to Euler, who organized a sewer petition drive among the home owners last fall.
The Harford County Council refused to consider Euler's petition on the grounds the area is outside the designated growth area and thus ineligible for public sewer service.
To address the issue, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman's administration has included the area in question for expansion of the development envelope in the draft of its HarfordNEXT master plan, which is expected to be sent in final form to the council early next month.
Poggioli, who has long been active with the broad-based community group Greater Fallston Association, noted the Keep Fallston Rural petition was not organized by the GFA but is instead a grassroots effort to stop Harford County from expanding its development envelope in general.
Keep Fallston Rural also has sent emails to county council members urging them to oppose the changes to the development envelope proposed in the master plan, several council members acknowledge.
The county's development envelope, as laid out in its master plan, generally strives to limit growth to the Route 24/924 areas between Edgewood and Forest Hill, and along the Route 40 corridor.
In addition to Euler's site in Fallston, the HarfordNext plan proposes extending the boundaries of the development envelope to a property northwest of Routes 23/24 in Forest Hill and another along Route 136 near Cedar Lane in the Creswell area southeast of Bel Air.
Planning and Zoning Director Bradley Killian has called the three additions minor, but Poggioli and Flasch said they are worried the expansions will be a gateway to further growth in areas struggling to maintain their rural character.
HarfordNEXT is set to be presented to the County Council on May 3 and has been open to public comment online, through HarfordCountyMD.gov.
Poggioli and Flasch said they hope to make their voices heard by that time.
Both women said they were shocked and surprised to see the HarfordNEXT plan did not take into account ideas they had previously discussed with the administration about not expanding the development envelope. Instead, they had been disregarded, they said.
"I was an advocate of the HarfordNEXT [idea] and it felt like they wanted to tell me, 'No, we don't want to support that,'" Flasch said Monday.
The petition response has been "overwhelming," she said, adding that comments have been posted from beyond Fallston.
The underlying theme of the concern, she said, is "the rural charm of Fallston is slowly slipping away."
Poggioli said the development envelope is useless if it is constantly being broadened.
"If you have a plan, you stick to the plan," she said.
Euler said Monday that his neighbors in the immediate Routes 152/147 area support the expansion as a way to fix their ongoing issues with failing wells and septic systems, which date to the 1960s.
Euler has proposed an athletic fieldhouse on his property and said he still believes that would be the "highest use" for it, although he added he is "not opposed" to the possibility of developing single-family homes on large lots. He also said a significant amount of his property is wetlands that couldn't be development.
He said wouldn't put townhouses or condominiums on the property, future use of which has been debated within the community for a number of years.
Euler said the organizers of the Keep Fallston Rural petition are misinformed about the reason behind the proposed envelope expansion, when he insists is not about fostering future large-scale projects.
"The majority of that effort is to eliminate failing wells and septic," he said, calling the petition a reaction by misinformed residents, most who do not live in the immediate area.
Euler also said the expansion would form a logical boundary for the development envelope, by backing it up to Route 147. Killian, the county planning chief, has said that logical boundaries are features like roads or rivers, not property lines.
Euler said he is concerned that residents from out of town will again force poor planning and zoning decisions in Harford County, as he thinks happened in the 1990s.
He said he is willing to meet with his neighbors and the broader community but Greater Fallston Association has refused to meet with him.
Poggioli and Flasch said they hope residents continue to make their voices heard in the HarfordNEXT process in order to stop what they are seeing as a pathway to more development.
Poggioli said they will be meeting with County Councilman Joe Woods, who represents Fallston and has also been against expanding the development envelope in the past.
"We have an awesome opportunity to speak up right now," Poggioli said, adding that residents "have already seen what can happen with sprawl."
The expansion "would really just set a dangerous precedent in Harford County," she said. "Cheap ag land can be flipped. It's a business opportunity and that is a slippery slope."