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Angry neighbors warn they'll sue county if roads are connected for housing development planned near Bel Air

About 40 residents packed the new community room at the Harfrord County government building Wednesday morning to vent frustrations about a development called Monarch Glen that is planned off Cedar and Wheel roads east of Bel Air.
About 40 residents packed the new community room at the Harfrord County government building Wednesday morning to vent frustrations about a development called Monarch Glen that is planned off Cedar and Wheel roads east of Bel Air. (BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

Area residents told Harford County's Development Advisory Committee Wednesday morning that a proposed 124-house development off Cedar Lane east of Bel Air, whose roads will connect to their neighborhoods, will create dangerous traffic conditions, and some even threatened to sue the county if the project is approved.

Monarch Glen, which spurred an outcry from the Fairway neighborhood and others around Wheel Road and Route 543 at two previous public meetings, was up for a preliminary plan review before the DAC.

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About 40 residents packed the new community room at the county government building on Main Street in Bel Air for the review, at which public comments are permitted. Although the committee is not the final approval authority, its members represent various agencies, such as planning and highways, that are.

Developer Bob Ward, of Bob Ward Properties, said he reduced the number of planned "villa"-style townhouses from 62 to 52 and increased single-family houses from 62 to 72, but the county still required him to connect to the stub roads Loyal Lane and Clearwater Drive in Fairway.

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Besides those connections, a third access point would be in the 800 block of East Wheel Road.

William Securro and Lawrence Diggs were among those who warned of potential litigation if their neighborhood's roads are connected to Monarch Glen.

"I am willing to go to whoever to get that stopped," Securro told development review chief Moe Davenport, who chairs the review panel.

Ward and Jeff Matthai, of project engineer Morris & Ritchie Associates, Inc., noted they modified the "planned community," proposed on 62.15 acres zoned for low-density residential use (R1), and the site will include 60-foot, 80-foot and 90-foot lots, as well as 36-foot-wide townhouses.

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Residents of the Cedar Lane-Wheel Road areas of Bel Air sounded off Wednesday against Bob Ward Properties' plans to build a 124-home development called Monarch Glen.

"We have refined our marketing plan," Ward, 58, a Harford based developer and builder, said. "Our plan is to offer those villas to appeal to my generation and those older than me."

"We are still 1 1/2 years away from actually building the homes. The market could change but I don't envision any big changes," he said.

Fifty percent of the site will be open space, most of it in a protected natural resource district that can't be developed, with 3.4 acres of that as active open space, Matthai said.

Traffic study pending

DAC members made minimal comments to the developer, suggesting that an existing pond on the property be inspected before being turned over to the homeowners association, that sidewalks extend to Cedar Drive and that accommodations be made for 35-mile-per-hour and 30-mile-per-hour speed limits within the development.

A traffic impact study was submitted to the county and remains under review. Residents, however, blasted the study as biased because they said they saw employees sleeping or texting in their cars while doing the analyses.

"It seems to me that, [and] I have testified at all the hearings, that none of our comments and concerns regarding connecting Clearwater to this development have been considered," Securro told the committee, adding that residents have talked about the inadequacy of the roads in Fairway. "I want to know, what's our next step to stop this?"

The Fairway development, off of Wheel Road just northeast of the Monarch Glen site, includes multiple cul-de-sacs, all which exit onto Fairway Drive and back up to a long private road that extends east from East MacPhail Road.

Securro said none of the neighborhoods previously built along Wheel Road, such as Todd Lakes and Willow Chase, as well as along Route 543, have road interconnections, and residents now have up to four or five vehicles, not one or two as in the past.

"You are taking away our safety and security by insisting on this interconnection," he said. "This is not fair to the people who have lived in this community for years. We have maintained our homes; we take care of our neighborhood; we pay taxes."

Vernon Skinner, another Fairway resident, read from several nationwide reports that he said criticize the idea that interconnecting roads is good, as it encourages people to "infiltrate" neighborhoods by taking shortcuts away from larger arterial roads. He suggested putting up signs banning through traffic on the new roads in Monarch Glen.

John McCarthy, who lives off Fairway Drive, said much has changed since he moved into the area 50 years ago and did his own soil percolation test.

Plans for a 124-house development planned off Wheel Road and Cedar Lane, center, continue to draw criticism from residents of nearby neighborhoods, particularly regarding the plan to connect with Loyal Lane and Clearwater Drive in Fairway, above.
Plans for a 124-house development planned off Wheel Road and Cedar Lane, center, continue to draw criticism from residents of nearby neighborhoods, particularly regarding the plan to connect with Loyal Lane and Clearwater Drive in Fairway, above. (Google Maps /)

"Why do you need four exits from this development?" McCarthy asked. "We have lived in Fairway with one exit, and, to the best of my knowledge, survived the last 50 years... You are going to impact the traffic and safety of over 100 homes in Fairway."

McCarthy said the developer should be required to rely more heavily on the primary exit to Wheel, but Davenport replied the site's topography dictates and constrains the project's design.

Davenport tried to reassure residents that he cares about the traffic concerns, but also explained that connecting the stub roads is considered the best planning practice, as well as being required by county regulations. The law for subdivisions states that when stub roads are provided, "you must connect," Davenport said.

"In my professional opinion, there will be more people on Clearwater coming through Loyal Lane," Davenport said, to which a resounding "no" came back from the audience in disagreement.

Laughs of disapproval

He tried to explain that connected roads improve traffic flow and communities should not be "isolated pods," which drew several laughs of disapproval and disagreement from the audience.

He said developments like Fairway, with one-way-in and one-way-out access, are the reason for the county's current messy traffic situation in areas that have layered on development after development over the years, particularly the areas surrounding Bel Air.

"We're applying basic planning principles," Davenport said, explaining he is "looking at the county as a whole," is passionate about the impact to the community and is familiar with Fairway and the surrounding neighborhoods, calling them "wonderful communities."

"I've based my entire career about creating great places to live, so I look at everything," Davenport said, adding he is passionate about the quality of life within Fairway.

After considering a wide variety of factors, "my conclusion is these roads were built to continue the larger community," Davenport said about the area roads.

He also agreed with residents that the county needs to continue looking at road improvements to Cedar Lane and Cedarday Drive.

"My hope is that Fairway will still be a beautiful and wonderful community," Davenport said. "My hope is, it will coexist near another beautiful and wonderful community called Monarch Glen."

Residents did not seem appeased, with one woman replying that, "Hope is not a plan," and several people asking if they could hold private meetings with Davenport or Planning and Zoning Director Bradley Killian.

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A local developer is planning to build 124 single-family homes and townhomes in Bel Air's Cedar Lane neighborhood, between Wheel Road and Cedarday Drive.

Tim Sullivan joined several neighbors in encouraging Clearwater to remain closed off in the interest of safety. He said the county is "piling" in a density of houses that was not imagined 50 years ago and the roads are substandard for that level of development.

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Paul Austin, another resident of Fairway, said he is not worried about a 50-year law for stub roads, but about leadership.

Austin, who is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Joppa, said he wanted to live in a community where his autistic son would be safe to walk with his service dog, and he is concerned about his neighborhood eventually experiencing the same kind of traffic problems he has seen at Trinity Lutheran, on Philadelphia Road near Route 152 in Joppa, where trucks and other vehicles regularly drive through the grass or even come into the cemetery and destroy graves.

"How do we grow a community but do the right thing for the people there?" Austin asked, calling his church's area traffic "unbelievable."

"I know it's a right to build, but doggone it, at some point, don't you have to look at how you're affecting communities already here?" he said.

Lawrence Diggs, of Cedar Hill Court, which is on the south side of the Monarch Glen site, said no consideration has been given to the road on Cedarday, which he warned will "be an impassable road."

"The county has to take responsibility for doing their job that we pay taxes for," Diggs said, adding most people in the room are retired. "We didn't move here to have our homes depreciated."

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