Two residents of the Bel Air South community surrounding the planned New Points sober living facilities called upon members of the Harford County Council to act on their neighborhood’s behalf Tuesday as residents continue to seek a Board of Appeals review of the project as well as a public hearing.
“As stated in the zoning code, the zoning Board of Appeals may impose conditions limitations and restrictions as necessary to preserve harmony with adjacent uses, ‘to protect the public health, safety and welfare’ of the neighbors, and this needs to happen,” resident Karli Bain said.
Bain and fellow resident Chris McNeil made their case to the council, which sits as the Board of Appeals, during the citizen comment portion of Tuesday evening’s legislative session in the council chambers in the Town of Bel Air.
They, as well as other members of the community, have made pleas to the council for weeks to intervene in the ongoing project to build five single-family houses on a 2.5-acre parcel on Ogden Court off of Route 24 near the intersection with West Wheel Road and the Festival at Bel Air shopping center.
The five houses are meant to be “an independent and private neighborhood” providing a residential recovery program for men 18 and older working to beat addiction to drugs and alcohol, according to New Points’ website. Services and amenities include a fitness center and a 100-person community hall for hosting 12-step meetings and other recovery-related activities and workshops, according to the website.
The community was initially designed for 50 men, but New Points has reduced that capacity to 40 residents, or eight men per house, in the wake of community concerns.
Four men are already living in the sober living community, according to New Points executive director Warrie Boyd.
New Points founder Tom Burden and Boyd selected the site because of its proximity to Route 24 and I-95, as well as local retail, employment opportunities and recovery treatment services, they said during an interview with The Aegis in March.
Boyd said the opening of the houses will be staggered this spring as construction on each structure ends “to make sure residents are meeting our expectations and to let neighbors at-large know we make great neighbors.
“The neighbors’ fears are unfounded at this point, and we’ll be able to demonstrate that,” he added.
The houses are being built in an area zoned for R3 residential development and includes the Abingdon Library and Emmorton Elementary School within walking distance. The structures were permitted by Harford County as single-family houses, and the county’s only role in the process is to ensure they are being built according to construction codes, a county government spokesperson said in February as residents began to protest and circulate a petition against the project.
The county’s zoning code does not include provisions to regulate sober living facilities — that is handled by the state.
Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods have protested what they say is a lack of transparency on the part of New Points and accused operators of violating the county zoning code since the houses will not be used as single-family residences but for a business operation. They have expressed concerns about the safety of children walking to and from school and privacy for those who live adjacent to the property.
“By what possible standard can a building with a meeting hall that can accommodate up to 100 people be considered a single-family home?” McNeil asked during the council meeting. “Simply put, it cannot.”
McNeil cited the meeting hall, as well as the fact that the sober living community would be coded as a “residential mental health and substance abuse facility” according to the North American Industry Classification System, as well as NAICS definitions for a business “enterprise” and “establishment” as reasons why the community should be considered “a business enterprise comprised of five business establishments,” not five single-family houses.
“The consistency between the NAICS definition and New Points’ own description of the intended use show that New Points should be considered an industry as defined by the NAICS and not five single-family homes,” McNeil said.
The project “should be determined to be noncompliant with the current permits, should be reviewed as a special exception in an R3 neighborhood — if allowed to operate — and at a minimum be subject to conditions and accommodations to maintain the harmony of the neighborhood,” McNeil said, drawing some applause from others in the council chambers.
“While so far no one in the government is upholding the zoning code, I am hoping that you, our elected representatives, are going to help us hold the county administration accountable in fulfilling their roles and making this public hearing happen,” Bain told council members.
She noted New Points has not built a fence around the houses on Ogden Court, but the neighboring homeowners’ association is trying to do so.
“Unlike New Points, they are actually trying to follow the zoning code, dealing with the red tape, consulting a lawyer and shouldering the cost, which will most likely end up falling on the shoulders of the homeowners of the community,” Bain said. “This is ridiculously unfair.”
She said a fence should be New Points’ responsibility, since it is the new neighbor, “but this will not happen unless the Board of Appeals holds them responsible.”
Bain also shared her concerns about the curfew for the sober living residents, which will be midnight Fridays and Saturdays and 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. A special exception is required for any resident who wants to leave a house before 7 a.m., as well, according to New Points officials.
Bain said the curfew should be much earlier, and she also cited concerns about traffic, parking and security.
“I hope it’s clear that our requests are not unreasonable, and it’s no more than what New Points should already have done or be planning,” she said.
“These requests, however, can only be met by holding a public hearing and having the hearing examiner and Board of Appeals impose conditions, limitations and restrictions to protect the public health, safety and welfare of the neighbors,” Bain continued.
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Aegis staff writer Erika Butler contributed to this article.