Zoning allows former Bel Air auto auction site development [Editorial]

It was inevitable the 45.2-acre former home of the Bel Air Auto Auction in the 800 block of Baltimore Pike would be redeveloped.

It was equally inevitable that neighboring residents would be opposed. It didn’t much matter what was proposed, there was going to be opposition.

Fran Wergin, who said she has lived in the nearby Bel Air Acres for 48 years, had the right approach, sort of, when she acknowledged that “something is going to go in” the auto auction site.

From there, expectations from those living around the site were somewhat less than realistic.

We feel the pain of folks like Wergin and Anthony Tabasco who spoke out against the proposal at a recent Development Advisory Committee meeting.

“We’re the taxpayers; you work for us,” Tabasco said to the members of the Development Advisory Committee who represent various county agencies on the committee. “Why are you doing something the taxpayers don’t want?”

Simply put, that’s what more often than not governments do. Governments almost always find ways to do something that some of their constituents oppose. And that’s not just the easy stuff, such as raising taxes or fees.

It also particularly includes zoning matters, which always leaves someone unsatisfied. The proposal for the Bel Air Auto Auction site is a zoning issue. After taxes and school redistricting, zoning issues probably cause more heartburn than any other local governance issue.

Developers want more and more. Residents without a dog in the hunt of development riches want less and less. In many cases, that less and less really means none.

As for the former Bel Air Auto Auction site, the proposal calls for a mixed use of residential and commercial. The site is composed of four separate parcels with much of it zoned for high-intensity business use. The rest is zoned for R1 residential use, the lowest density, primarily single family houses.

Residents opposed to the plan cited three primary concerns: increased traffic, increased pressure on the water supply and public safety.

Traffic is always a concern in Harford County, and has been for decades. It will be for the foreseeable future, too, for any project, including any redevelopment of the former auto auction site.

Pressure on the water supply includes fears of what the additional growth would necessitate in increased usage unlike any since the auto auction opened on the site in 1947. While future of the water supply is a legitimate concern, that may be short-lived as Bel Air’s private water company is building a reservoir across Route 1 that will support the town’s water supply during periods of low flow. Being added to the town water system would increase expenses for homeowners, at least the water issue isn’t insurmountable.

The third cause for concern was public safety some residents believe will be compromised by building new residential units. If that’s true, which we don’t believe, it will be true of whatever new comes to that location.

We don’t have much of an opinion on the proposal, but we do believe that parcel has created a lot of traffic during its history as a thriving business and that whatever comes next will do the same.

Simply put, something that longtime neighbors of the former auto auction won’t like is coming to that site. Like it or not, the zoning allows it, or equally onerous projects, and there’s not much that can be done at this point to stop it.

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