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What's next for Bel Air South after Walmart pulled out? No big box stores, site's owner says

Walmart's no longer coming to Emmorton, but mixed-use might be next

A Walmart may no longer be looming for the Bel Air South area, but what's next for the empty plot of land at Route 924 and Plumtree Road?

The site, surrounded by a wave of projects including the newly-completed MedStar Health and the soon-to-be-completed Avanti Luxury Apartments off of Route 24, remains zoned for high-intensity use.

The property's owner hopes to ultimately turn the land into some type of mixed-use project, but not one anchored by a mammoth retail outlet.

Area residents, however, remain wary of what comes next and continue to question why any more commercial development is needed in the busy corridor along Routes 24 and 924 between Bel Air and I-95 in Abingdon.

"It is still owned and controlled by the Haron Dahan Foundation, and the Foundation, based on the various inquiries, is not interested in a big-box [business]," Robert Lynch, a Bel Air-based attorney, who represents the owner of the former Walmart site, said Tuesday.

Haron Dahan, who died in 2013, was a successful developer and builder in Harford County for more than 40 years. The charitable foundation he established in 1986 supports educational institutions in Baltimore, where the founder lived, and in his native Israel.

Lynch said conversations have taken place about possible users for the Plumtree Road land, but nothing is moving forward.

"The property, at this time, is not under contract with anyone, and there have been numerous discussions with various individuals who are interested in the property," Lynch said.

Although big-box stores have approached the owner, the Foundation was not interested, Lynch said.

A mixed-use development "seems to be where the strongest interest is, and I believe that would be harmonious" with the surrounding area, he said.

Walmart spent the better part of three years working on a plan to build a 186,000 square foot store on the 35-acre property, located in midst of a heavily-developed commercial area and zoned B-3, which permits the highest intensity commercial development.

Area residents actively fought the plan, citing concerns about increased traffic congestion. They urged Walmart to expand an existing store at Constant Friendship, just a few miles away, but company officials said that would not be economically feasible.

In November 2015, Walmart said it would no longer pursue the proposed Bel Air South store, after being "unable to reach agreement on an additional extension of the contract to purchase the site."

Several questions about the Plumtree Road property came up at an annual meeting of the Friends of Harford land use advocacy group on Sunday. The meeting was held at the Abingdon Library and among those attending was county Planning and Zoning Director Bradley Killian.

Ted Janes, part of the Bel Air South Community Foundation that spearheaded the community fight against Walmart's plans, asked Killian what the department learned from that skirmish.

Killian, who has held his post since late 2014 when the administration of County Executive Barry Glassman took office, said the case showed the county made the applicant adhere to the development code, the applicant pushed back and the county did not fold.

"I think we followed it the way we were supposed to," he said of the process.

Walmart had asked the county to relax traffic mitigation requirements in March 2015, a proposal that the Bel Air South Community Foundation vigorously fought. Meanwhile, Walmart representatives claimed the county was forcing requirements upon them that were beyond the scope of the code.

"If we do our jobs well, we don't get a bad product in the end," Killian said.

"My advice to whoever comes in [next] would be to do some homework on their own and see what the community wants to see," he added.

Janes, however, said his basic question was, "Why does Harford County need more development, especially in the 924 corridor?"

He said 21 intersections were going to be affected by the Walmart project and "meanwhile, we have development after development going up."

Just across Route 924 from the former Walmart site, the 198-unit Avanti Luxury Apartments is set to open this summer, according to its website.

The project, which is being developed on what was once part of the same Dahan tract, will include a number of traffic improvements, including widening Plumtree between Tollgate Road and Route 24, installing a roundabout at Plumtree and Tollgate and connecting the long-divided Tollgate Road between Plumtree and Bel Air South Parkway.

Killian said the county continues to study the Route 924 area to look into options to enhance traffic flow without adding lanes or other major improvements to Route 924, a state road where major improvements are dependent on state funding.

He said that effort is more of an "enhancement" study than a transportation study.

Earlier this year, Glassman asked Maryland's transportation secretary to consider funding construction of a third northbound travel lane along Route 24 between Singer and Plumtree roads. The request was among several state transportation funding priorities set by the county administration.

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