Traffic on Route 543 between I-95 in Belcamp and Route 1 in Hickory is a nightmare and two new developments planned at each of those intersections will only make things worse, residents in those areas say.
“You put all that traffic on 543, how is it going to handle all this traffic?” William Pate, who lives on Pemwood Court in Creswell, asked members of the Harford County Development Advisory Committee Wednesday. “Nobody seems to be paying attention that only so much can be put in this general area.”
More than 50 people attended the DAC meeting, where a concept plan for the James Run mixed-use development and a site plan for the Homes at Fountain Green were reviewed.
James Run in Belcamp, on a former nine-hole golf course on property zoned mixed office, includes more than 600 residential units in addition to a hotel, restaurants and office buildings. The Homes at Fountain Green project is 72 apartments in three buildings.
“A huge amount of traffic is already on 543,” Mark Fisher, who lives on Goat Hill Road just north of the James Run project, said.
There are three crosses between Goat Hill and Creswell roads on Route 543 where people have died.
“I don’t know how many more people are going to get killed,” Fisher said. “How many more crosses do we need at Dead Man’s Curve before you do a traffic study that does the area justice?”
The 111-acre James Run property is the only site in Harford with mixed-office zoning, which residents nearby said was intended to draw high-end business development.
Instead, they said, most of the plan calls for residential development.
“We never thought that this would be residential,” Grace Hiter of Aberdeen said. “We were told they would be high-tech buildings, and the people who live there would work in those buildings. How did we end up with this?”
The developers, JEN LLC, have proposed a combination of retail, service and residential development.
The retail component would be a convenience store and the service would be restaurants and office buildings along Route 543. The rest is proposed to be residential — a four-story, 100-unit senior living complex, a 125-room hotel, 300 apartments in six buildings, 191 villas and 87 townhomes, said Jeff Matthai of Morris & Richie Associates.
Three entrances to the site are proposed, including one at Creswell Road with a traffic signal.
The James Run development is expected to put 91 more students in Church Creek Elementary School, putting it over the 100 percent capacity threshold but below the 110 percent that prompts a building moratorium. An estimated 43 students would go to Aberdeen Middle and 52 to Aberdeen High, a school official said.
Florian Svitak, who lives on Calvary Road in Abingdon, said the James Run proposal is not what was envisioned when the property was zoned mixed office.
“The idea was for the land to remain open until we build great buildings,” Svitak said. “What we’re building here is a housing development with some businesses along 543. That’s all this is. It falls way short of what was envisioned.”
Numerous residents of Goat Hill Road questioned why their road — a high-traffic, 30 mph double yellow rural road — was not included as part of the traffic study when it is a quarter-mile to a half-mile from the proposed development.
Fisher said 17 to 24 buses a day use Goat Hill Road as part of their routes, taking students not just to Church Creek and the Aberdeen Middle and High schools, but also to schools in the Edgewood area.
More buses will be needed to accommodate the additional students, he said.
And drivers trying to turn into the James Run development won’t wait to cross Route 543, Fisher said. They’ll take Route 7 to Goat Hill, turn right onto 543 and then right into James Run, which means more cars on their street.
Homes at Fountain Green
Homes for America is proposing to build a 72-unit apartment complex, with three apartment buildings and a community building having an active recreation area and a dog park.
The property is about 10 acres and is zoned B3, where apartments are a permitted use. It was rezoned from commercial industrial during the 2008 Harford Comprehensive Zoning Review.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman opposes the project, which would be financed through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, and sent a letter to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
“Harford County does not support this project. The location of the propsoed 72-unit mixed-income multi-family rental is not harmonious with the quality of life residents of Harford County have come to expect,” Glassman wrote in the letter dated July 2.
The proposal is similar to the 56-unit Bensons Corner project in Fallston, at the intersection of Belair Road, Harford Road and the Bel Air Bypass, which Glassman also opposed for the same reasons.
“We all moved to Harford County to have a certain quality of life and apartment complexes are not part of that quality of life for me and for a lot of my neighbors,” said Rick Mattox, who serves on the homeowners board of the Vineyard Oak development near the proposed apartments. “That wasn’t part of the quality of life. We all work really hard, did lot of good things in our lives, moved out to a community of big single-family homes, that’s the kind of life we want to have, open green spaces. Not living next to apartments.”
A school system representative said the complex will add 10 students to local schools — five to Hickory Elementary, two to Southampton Middle and three to C. Milton Wright High, numbers Mattox took issue with.
“There is no way if 72 families move in, that you’re only going to have 10 school-age children moving in,” he said.
He also disputed results of the traffic study, which he said concluded that six cars would turn right and six would turn left out of the only entrance to the community at peak times.
“Six. Just six cars. You look at these and think, ‘How is that possible?’ You’ve got 72 families, 100 cars. Only 12 cars coming out in the morning, to add into the congestion?” he said.
Ed Mallon, who had lived off Route 543 closer to Route 22 for 32 years, questioned if the Route 543 would be widened between Route 1 and I-95.
“That’s what I foresee as a problem. The infrastructure is not in place before people move in,” Mallon said. “...543 is getting to be a nightmare.”
Though he’s retired, he recalls it taking four to five minutes to turn out of his Southampton neighborhood to go north on Route 543.
Bob Haviland, who lives in Vineyard Oak, said anyone making a left out of the apartment community will be turning into the left turn lanes for the Hickory Bypass and the acceleration lane coming off the bypass.
“It is a safety issue, it’s a big safety concern,” Haviland said.
He said instead of turning left, drivers will instead turn right then turn into a neighborhood to make a U-turn.
“That disrupts the quality of life for the residents in that neighborhood,” he said.
Other residents were concerned about their water pressure, already very low, becoming even lower with the new development, but Darryl Ivins, a civil engineer for the county, assured them their water comes from a different zone than the apartments and their pressure won’t be affected.