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Proposed Havre de Grace ordinance seeks more control over future use of Water Street site

Havre de Grace officials are considering legislation aimed at giving the city some control over the use a group of properties along the city's waterfront that Harford County acquired last year, as well as other publicly owned properties, if they are developed.
Havre de Grace officials are considering legislation aimed at giving the city some control over the use a group of properties along the city's waterfront that Harford County acquired last year, as well as other publicly owned properties, if they are developed. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

Havre de Grace officials are considering legislation aimed at giving the city some control over the use a group of properties along the city's waterfront that Harford County acquired last year, as well as other publicly owned properties, if they are developed.

The county-owned properties in the 600 block of Water Street, to which the city contributed part of the purchase price, were supposedly going to be used for a new waterfront park.

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That thinking may have changed with a new county administration, however, one whose leaders opposed the purchase of the four properties, which was pushed through by former County Executive David Craig in his last few weeks in office.

"If it's a publicly-owned piece of property, if it's county, state or federal land, we would like that to become public access [to the waterfront] in total," City Council President Steve Gamatoria said about the pending Ordinance 972.

Much of the text of the ordinance, which the council is scheduled to vote on Nov. 2, focuses on the anticipated development of the Water Street site and other properties owned by the public, in an effort to ensure public access to the waterfront is preserved, according to Gamatoria.

Any use of the Water Street site is on hold, however, as the county-owned property has not been transferred to the city, as the previous county administration intended.

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Mayor Bill Martin has been discussing the transfer with the administration of Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.

Martin said he "politely declined" an offer from the county to sell the four parcels to the city at cost because the city could not afford it.

"My office and the county executive's office are still in talks right now to figure out how to best use this property," the mayor said Tuesday.

Craig, a Havre de Grace native and former mayor, spent $700,000 in county funds on a 39,000-square-foot parcel at 627 Water St. in February 2014. The county and city then spent another $1 million toward the end of the year – the county contributed $600,000 and the city contributed $400,000 – to buy three parcels totaling 2.25 acres at 649 Water St.

Martin said the county offered to sell all the parcels to the city for $1.3 million, or what the county had paid for the land.

The city and the county also agreed to contribute $200,000 each toward cleaning up the one property which had been an oil terminal, and that both parties would apply for federal and state grants to fund the cleanup, according to an Oct. 17, 2014 memorandum of understanding signed by Craig and former Mayor Wayne Dougherty.

The purchase price money was available in the city and county budgets, officials said at the time.

Neither the county nor the city has applied for cleanup money. Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for the county government, said the county "will not commit funds to develop, especially with the Havre de Grace Middle and High School project pending."

Glassman curtailed local funding for a Havre de Grace High School and Middle School replacement project in fiscal 2016, as well as a number of other capital projects in the county, when he took office last December to get the county's capital spending and debt load under control.

Mumby said the school project remains in the county's five-year capital improvement plan.

"The Glassman administration plans to move ahead with that project when it's affordable," she said.

As for the Water Street properties, Mumby said, "we would prefer to sell the properties to the city of Havre de Grace, but we are also looking at other options."

Craig, who is Maryland's secretary of planning, went ahead with the property purchase in the final weeks of his term as county executive despite prior objections from a majority of County Council members who were concerned over potentially high cleanup costs.

The purchase of the three parcels was approved by a 4-3 vote by the county's Board of Estimates, which Craig chaired, in early November 2014. Glassman and his top aide, Director of Administration Billy Boniface, have both criticized the purchase.

Boniface was president of the Harford County Council at the time the deal was approved by the estimates board, of which he was a member. He vehemently criticized the purchase.

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Waterfront ordinance

The mayor and council hosted a public hearing on the proposed waterfront development ordinance Monday, but no one spoke.

Ordinance 972 includes an amendment to the city zoning code, titled Section 205-28.1 Publicly Owned Waterfront Parcels.

Gamatoria said Tuesday "there really isn't anything" in the zoning code that "specifically" addresses waterfront development.

"What the city has demonstrated is, all of their waterfront properties have become parkland, but it's never really been by design in any type of legislation," the council president added.

He stressed the ordinance would not apply to privately-owned land on the waterfront, but property acquired by the city, such as land on Concord Street that his family sold to the city in 2013, or the ends of municipal streets that are along the waterfront.

"As much as the city can obtain [waterfront land], and when they get it they need to make sure it's utilized for the general public's use," he said.

Proposed "principal permitted uses" include marinas, restaurants, museums, parking lots and public parks that have access to the water, according to the ordinance.

Conditional uses, which would have to be approved by the city's Board of Appeals, include a hotel, banquet hall, bed and breakfast or a multi-family residence, all which come with public access to the water, according to the ordinance.

"I want to emphasize that this is not private property," Gamatoria said.

Public access to the water would be a "condition of development" for publicly-owned waterfront land. The property owner must submit a concept plan to the mayor and council before submitting a site plan to city planning officials.

The concept plan must show "direct access to the water for use by the public in a matter that is consistent with the public use of the City Yacht Basin, the Promenade, Hutchins Park, Jean Roberts Park and David Craig Park", according to the ordinance.

Gamatoria said he might propose changing the number of permitted uses to ensure the development is geared toward more passive uses of property, such as a park, rather than active uses such as restaurants.

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