Fallston residents concerned about farm fields adjacent to Youth's Benefit Elementary School being redeveloped for at least seven single-family houses packed a Harford County Development Advisory Committee hearing on the project Wednesday morning.
"It's a disappointment that this is the example that we give to children as they look out their school window, that the priority is high-end luxury homes," resident Tracey Slaughter said. "The land is more valuable for that than it is for agriculture or open space, and it's happening all across the county."
Several other members of the audience, which included Arden Drive residents who live near the 16.9-acre site, offered a "second," a "third" and a "fourth" to Slaughter's comment.
The property is owned by The Charles Neighbors LLC, a Fallston-based firm associated with William Hess III and Donna Lynn Hess, according to a copy of the preliminary plan presented during Wednesday's hearing at the Harford County government complex in Bel Air. Locally, the property has been known for years as the Hess Farm and sits between the school and the Thomas Sawmill property.
The contract purchaser and developer is the G.F. Construction Co. Inc., of Kingsville.
The property is off Route 152, but the proposed housing development won't be accessible form the busy highway. Instead, Arden Drive, which runs off Oakmont Road and dead ends at the northern end of the Hess property, would be extended to provide access to the new houses.
Arden Drive would be extended with a cul-de-sac, and Hess farm residents would get to their homes via shared driveways off of the cul-de-sac, Rowan Glidden, of the Belcamp engineering firm G.W. Stephens Jr. and Associates Inc., told committee members.
Bill Snyder and Robin Wales, who represent the county's volunteer fire and EMS companies and the Department of Emergency Services, respectively, told Glidden the developer must clearly mark the addresses and provide signage to indicate the location of each house along the shared driveways.
"That really helps us out," Snyder said.
The houses will be served by private wells and septic systems, Glidden said. He noted, in response to audience questions, that there will not be any direct road connection to Route 152.
Rich Zeller, who represents the State Highway Administration, said his agency has no comment on the project since there is no access from a state road.
Jennifer Wilson, of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said a "trail or sidewalk connection" must be built from Arden Drive to the elementary school, and it should connect to any existing trails so children can continue to walk to the school or athletic fields.
Neighborhood residents expressed concerns about stormwater management, how seven new wells could affect their wells, plus with the loss of an unobstructed view of the farm.
"I understand that progress happens," resident Jack Gentry said. "I'm looking at it from the perspective that, for the 30 years I've lived there, I had a beautiful vista, the soybeans and the corn and the openness. Now I'm going to have a driveway 8 feet from my property line; it's not the same as the farm."
The developer must landscape sections of the property in accordance with county codes. Moe Davenport, chairman of the DAC. noted a 50-foot-wide buffer has been set aside for reforestation along the edge of lot 7 – the Gentry property abuts the top right corner of the lot, according to the preliminary plan.
Glidden said there will be "several hundred small trees that will grow up over time" in the reforestation area.
"The idea is, over time, you will have basically a solid woods across the back of those lots," he told Gentry.
Glidden also noted existing vegetation, such as trees and shrubs, along the edge of the property will not be disturbed.
"At my property there's none, because we have the vista of the farm," Gentry said of existing vegetation.
He suggested the developer extend buffers "so at minimum, I'm not looking in someone's bedroom window."
"I'll share that with them, see if we can work something out," Glidden replied.
Teresa Gentry, Jack Gentry's wife, asked about the impact of new wells. She said about three wells in her community have been "re-dug" during the past three to four years.
"How do you know if the [new] wells are going to affect the other wells?" she asked committee member Len Walinski, of the Harford County Health Department.
Walinski noted the proposed wells are "pretty far away from adjacent properties," plus the plan meets state requirements that lots should be a minimum of one acre each to develop wells.
He stressed wells are drilled in advance to ensure they can draw enough water, and they do not interfere with wells and septic systems on neighboring properties. The well structure and the water are also tested to ensure the water is safe for drinking.
A well must be at least 10 feet from a neighboring property line, so "the closest two wells can be is 20 feet," Walinski explained.
He said simultaneous yield tests must be conducted if two wells are very close together.
"Even being 20 feet apart, we've never had a problem with [wells] intercepting each other's water," Walinski said.
The developers plan to build facilities on site to capture and treat stormwater.
Al Burns, who lives on Arden Drive, noted the area gets about two major thunderstorms – which he called "boomers" and "gully busters" – a year.
"All the water goes straight down this way," he said, indicating the proposed cul-de-sac.
"We actually have a torrent coming down Arden Drive," Burns said.