The building once known as La Chic Salon & Spa was torn down Wednesday in preparation for a new dental office at Thomas and Hays streets, one of the few new construction projects that can move ahead in the Town of Bel Air.
The town has struggled to promote redevelopment since Maryland American Water announced it did not have enough reserve water supply capacity last year, putting new construction on hold.
The future home of Miranda Dental on Hays Street was only approved because "they were able to prove that their water demand was going to be less than the previous use, which was a salon," Kevin Small, Bel Air's planning and zoning director, said.
Dr. Alvin Miranda's office recently bought the property and plans to move from its Tollgate Road location, Small said. Miranda couldn't be reached for comment. The salon closed a few years ago.
"It's going to be an entirely new building," Small said. "The existing building did not meet their needs."
La Chic's building dated to the 1950s. The block, which also contains the former home of The Aegis, had been considered for a redevelopment project.
Those plans have fallen by the wayside with the planned dentist office. The Aegis building was vacated in 2011 after the newspaper's printing and distribution were moved to Baltimore. Now owned by Tribune Real Estate, the property remains on the market.
The Miranda Dental project was approved last month by the town's planning commission, Small said.
With Baltimore City scaling back the amount of water it pulls from the Susquehanna River in drier times, Bel Air has had to look for new sources and a more reliable supply.
Maryland American supplies its treatment plant off Route 1 from the adjoining Winters Run, but the private company has to depend on Harford County's public water system during dry periods.
"I am still concerned in general," Small said about the moratorium's effect on construction in town, noting it is holding up projects like the later phases of Legacy at Gateway, a condominium project near Harford Mall and the Ma & Pa Trail.
"The only two [projects] that have been approved in the last couple of weeks were Starbucks, which was able also to prove that they were using less water, and this one," Small said. The Starbucks will occupy a vacant bank building on the parking lot of Bel Air Plaza off Route 1.
Small expects negotiations over a more reliable water supply to work out eventually, saying, "I foresee there is going to be a solution at some point."
Buzz about potential new construction in town has come and gone during the past few years.
In 2010, the town approved a five-story office building at 116 and 118 Main St., but Small said that approval expired and the developer has made no movement on the project since then.
A mixed-use building was also proposed for Churchville Road and Bond streets, at the site of a former Texaco gas station, but that also has not moved forward, Small said.
Most recently, Harford County has decided to surplus the vacant former Gordon Street school and ex-school headquarters, after it received no redevelopment proposals from developers.
Fred Sheckells, vice president of Clark Turner Companies, LLC, noted he "was interested in that building for years" and toured it during the request-for-proposal process some time ago.
"I did not submit an RFP due to the lack of water supply for new projects in Maryland American Water's service area and not for a lack of ideas for adaptive reuse of the building," Sheckells wrote in an email. "I think it is important for the public to understand that the lack of water supply is hurting economic development in town."
Bel Air Economic Development director Trish Heidenreich said she is glad to see the possibility of a new building at the La Chic site.
"I think it is very good that there is movement, that they are going to be taking a parcel that is on an important corner," Heidenreich said. "Whenever you have new construction, you are going to have a nice new building and that is always a positive."
The La Chic building itself did have a bit of history, including serving as an art gallery at one point, she noted.
"It's had sort of a few incarnations," she said.
Heidenreich said the moratorium is a "concern" because of its negative connotations, but noted it has not completely stopped developers, just slowed them down.