Fallston apartment draws opposition from residents, concern from Glassman

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Some Fallston-area residents expressed opposition Wednesday to plans for a 56-unit apartment complex on 11.38 acres at Harford Road and the Bel Air Bypass, citing concerns about traffic, school overcrowding and the potential increase of low- or moderate-income housing in the area.

Residents commented on the Bensons Corner project at a meeting of the county’s Development Advisory Committee.

Also opposed to the project is Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who said in a July letter to state housing officials that the location of the proposed “mixed income multi-family rental is not harmonious with the quality of life Harford County residents have come to expect.”

Robert Royer, of CNA Engineering, presented a site plan for the project at Wednesday’s meeting on behalf of developer Bensons Corner Apartments LLC, of Annapolis. Susan Quick, of Forest Hill, owns the property, according to the site plan.

The developer is seeking approval to consolidate four lots into two — with apartments on a lot of about 7 acres near Harford Road. Four buildings, along with a community center, are proposed, with parking, a tot lot and a walking trail ending near Annie’s Playground and Edgeley Grove Park, Royer said.

He said there were no immediate plans for the rest of the property, which borders Annie’s Playground.

Drivers would access the site from Harford Road and use a private drive to get through the first lot, Royer said.

The site, zoned B3 commercial, is at the Benson intersection of Harford Road and Route 1, near the Maryland State Police Bel Air barrack.

School-age children living there would attend Youth’s Benefit Elementary School, Fallston Middle School and Fallston High School, according to Development Advisory Committee chairman Moe Davenport.

Construction was recently completed on a new Youth’s Benefit building. The school is at 91 percent of its state-rated capacity, with 1,017 students, according to Harford County Public Schools. Fallston Middle is at 86 percent capacity with 950 students, and Fallston High is at 63 percent with 985 students.

The county’s Adequate Public Facilities Advisory Board uses the capacity numbers to determine if there should be a freeze on development in a particular district. Moratoriums are issued if a school is at 110 percent capacity — or if it’s projected to reach 110 percent in three years.

“Why do we have to wait until a school is over capacity to stop issuing building permits?” asked Fallston resident Whitney Nechay, whose 5-year-old daughter is in kindergarten at Youth’s Benefit.

Nechay, who has two other young children, said she is “adamantly opposed” to the project based on concerns over traffic, safety and a lack of pedestrian infrastructure. She also questioned if children from low- or moderate-income families could mesh well with peers in a community where the median income is “six figures.”

Gail Rohleder, a Fallston resident and mother of children ages 3 and 5, disputed the accuracy of a traffic study done for the project. She said it was conducted shortly before Labor Day weekend when many people were out of town and school had not started.

She expressed concern about traffic backing up on Harford Road and also questioned the school impact.

“Adding large communities like this, where that could put over 100 children [in the schools], is that necessary?” she asked.

Glassman’s opposition came in the July letter to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. In it, he spoke against the developer’s application for an incentive through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

The federal tax program, administered by states, is designed to help private-sector firms build or rehabilitate housing for families with low or moderate incomes, according to the DHCD website. To qualify, apartment complex owners must rent either 20 percent of units to tenants who earn up to 50 percent of the community’s median income, or 40 percent of units to people earning up to 60 percent of median income, according to the web page.

In the letter, the county executive said Harford “strives to provide safe, affordable housing to all residents.” He cited issues with the site including a lack of access to public transportation, no sidewalks along Harford Road, heavy vehicle traffic and no public facilities or retail stores nearby.

“The [Bensons Corner] project is not consistent with our community development goals and therefore, we urge the State not to award tax credits,” Glassman wrote.

County spokesperson Cindy Mumby said the county executive was focused on the state incentives in his letter. She noted that the project still goes through the local approval process.

“We would treat this project, through our process, in the same way we treat any other,” Mumby said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Davenport said that as the proposal continues through county review, it’s important to note that garden apartments can be built on B3-zoned properties.

He said the committee works to ensure that plans follow county codes and zoning requirements, but added: “As long as they meet those requirements, I don’t have an ability to deny a property owner the rights that he has under the zoning code.”

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