After several years of new commercial buildings going up in the early 2000s along the stretch of Route 24 between Rock Spring – just north of the Bel Air Bypass – north to Forest Hill, development became relatively quiet amid the Great Recession.
But commercial growth, fueled by consumer demand, has resumed along Route 24 in earnest, with three new projects in various stages that should build out much of the remaining highway frontage.
Farthest along is a new Royal Farms store and urgent care facility in Rock Spring. Another urgent care center is being planned farther north, near the APG Federal Credit Union and Walgreens – a sign there says coming spring 2017, though no work has begun.
Next to the latter, near Kohl's, is a project that's still a ways from being completed – a single building combining retail and residential uses – according to a representative of the developer.
The new commercial development is being driven by consumer demand, a veteran Harford County based commercial real estate broker says.
"There's an increased traffic count, and an increase in discretionary spending in the 21050 ZIP code," said Tom Fidler, executive vice president and principal at MacKenzie Commercial. "There's a need for more goods and services closer to your residence, diminishing the need to come into Bel Air."
That discretionary spending has been rising over the last three years, Fidler said, and as a result, developers are trying to respond to residents' needs.
Closest to the intersection with Bynum and Red Pump roads and across from the relatively new shopping center in the Spenceola community that includes restaurants, stores and a CVS pharmacy, construction is well under way on a new Royal Farms store and 17,000 square feet of additional retail space.
The retail space will be divided among two buildings, one that includes a 3,500-square-foot urgent care center and an 8,500-square-foot day care and a second that includes a 2,200-square-foot restaurant with drive through and another 2,800-square-foot retail space, according to plans on file with Harford County government.
The site plan for the Royal Farms has been approved, but the a revised site plan for the 17,000 square feet retail space is still being reviewed, county spokesperson Cindy Mumby said.
Farther north on Route 24, Forest Hill Urgent Care LLC is planning to build another urgent care facility, an ExpressCare clinic, on the former Santander Bank building lot on the west side of Route 24, near Rock Spring Church Road.
The plan includes a 1,920-square-foot fast-food restaurant or cafe component with a drive-through, in addition to the 6,420-square-foot medical office building.
The site plans for that project were approved this week, Mumby said. The developer next must apply for building permits.
There is no indication what may go in the fast-food/cafe building, she said. The developer could not be reached for comment.
The third project, called Rock Spring Station, is a mixed use building planned on a lot between Kohl's and the development on the former Santander site, according to Joseph Snee, a Bel Air based lawyer who represents the developer, Rock Spring Station LLP, part of Osprey Development in Annapolis.
The three-story building will have about 20,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor and 57,000 square feet of resident space in apartments on the second and third floors.
Snee said it was too early in the process to know what the commercial entities going in might be.
A community input meeting was held on that project before Christmas. The approximately 14 people who attended raised concerns about traffic and stormwater management, Snee said.
In the residential space, 16 one-bedroom apartments are proposed, 29 two bedroom and nine three-bedroom.
This new apartment plan comes as construction wraps up on three large new apartment complexes in Harford County, the first such projects in many years.
New in Bel Air are The Park at Winters Run, 288 units on Route 1 across from Old Joppa Road, and the 198-unit Avanti Luxury Apartments along Tollgate Road between Plumtree Road and Bel Air South Parkway.
Apartment complexes are also under construction in the Abingdon area near the Boulevard at Box Hill shopping center and the Constant Friendship Walmart as well as in Aberdeen behind the 84 Lumber off Beards Hill Road.
What the demand is for another 54 apartments remains to be seen, but the units would be built in an area that hasn't seen any new apartment construction in well over decade.
"That is up to the market, in my humble opinion," Snee said. "There's obviously been a lot of activity in the market for apartments. Some people think we've reached a peak, others do not."
Until recently, he said, there hadn't been any major apartment projects in Harford in the last 20 years.
Many of the those choosing apartment living are younger people who don't want to take a risk on a mortgage or they don't have the money on a down payment to buy a house, Snee said, so they're choosing to rent.
"It's a trend nationally, and you see it in Harford County, and the market will dictate when that trend ends, I believe."