Bel Air faces tough choices as annexation plan is revived


The prospect of annexing a 64-acre property on the edge of Bel Air has county planners concerned about school overcrowding. But the planning director for the town says annexing the property would enable the town to exercise control over how the property is developed.

The John O'Neill family, which owns the land, located on the west side of the town at the end of Hall Street, has asked town commissioners if the property has stronger chances of being annexed than it did three years ago. A proposal for annexation of the property was denied in 1989, scuttling a controversial proposal for a 226-unit housing development there.

At issue, for county planners, is how any development of the property would affect Bel Air area public schools.

Earlier this month, the county planning department imposed a moratorium on approval of housing developments in four Bel Air school districts. The ban takes effect July 1.

The ban was imposed using a new county law aimed at controlling development when adequate public facilities are not in place. Building bans can be triggered if a school district is expected to be more than 20 percent over capacity within three years of a development's approval. The county's three municipalities are not bound by the county adequate public facilities law.

The O'Neill property, bordered by the U.S. 1 bypass and Route 24, is in the Bel Air Elementary school district, expected to be 40 percent over capacity by 1994.

"Any annexation by the town at this time would be inappropriate," said William G. Carroll, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

Bel Air's mayor, Mark Decker, said the O'Neill family has not filed an official application for annexation, but said their request is more a testing of the waters.

"We've discussed it once with the O'Neill family and once among the board," he said. "But we didn't go around the table and take a vote or anything. At this point everyone is non-committed and open-minded. We're not in any hurry to make a decision."

Carol Deibel, Bel Air's planning director, said town planners' primary concern is maintaining control over the use of a property that appears bound to be developed eventually.

"If the land is developed in the county, we can't deny access [over town roads], but we can't require improvements either. We would have no control over the infrastructure," she said.

Annexation, on the other hand, would allow the town to stipulate housing density and the amount of open space as conditions of annexation, Deibel said.

Also, the town would be able to require improvements to roads, water lines and sewer pumping stations, she said.

"It just makes sense from the town's standpoint that if the land is going to be developed it be developed in town."

Deibel said that annexation could speed development because Bel Air water and sewer lines could be easily connected at the end of Hall Street. Tapping into the county system would mean connecting to lines on the other side of the U.S. 1 bypass.

"From one standpoint, annexation makes sense," said Carroll, "but the timing is bad."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad