Controversial Eva-Mar development near Bel Air back for more county review Wednesday

The Harford County Development Advisory Committee will review more detailed preliminary plans Wednesday for the development of the former Eva-Mar Farm near Bel Air into a retirement community and multiple single family homes.

The project involves building a 514-unit continuing care retirement community, or CCRC, which would be operated by Presbyterian Home of Maryland, headquartered in Towson, and 144 single-family homes, on the 152-acre property off of Route 543 north of Amyclae Drive. Overall developer of the property is listed as in the latest plans on file with the county as ESC Eva-Mar, LLC, of Ellicott City, but was previously listed as Elm Street Development with offices in Ellicott City and McLean, Va.

The plan for the retirement community, which is called Carsins Run at Eva Mar, have been controversial among residents of the surrounding neighborhood. The property is zoned R1 residential, and both the homes planned and the CCRC are permitted uses.

"I would expect that there would be a large community showing at that meeting," Byron Hawley, a resident of neighboring Tudor Manor, said of Wednesday's review which will be held at 9 a.m. in the Harford County Council chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air.

The committee, commonly called DAC, usually holds its meetings in the Harford County government building on South Main Street in Bel Air, but county officials expect a large public turnout Wednesday, which was the case when the same panel reviewed concept plans in April. About 100 people attended that meeting.

The committee is made up of representatives of various county agencies, such as public works, the health department, Harford County Public Schools, emergency services and parks and recreation, plus the volunteer fire companies and the State Highway Administration.

Neighbors are concerned about the height of the four retirement community buildings, all of which will be four stories high according to the development plan, plus the impacts on traffic, capacity of neighborhood schools and the loss of trees in forested portions of the farm. The site is about half a mile north of the busy intersection of Routes 543 and Route 22.

"That's going to be a major, major problem when considered in concert with the newly planned developments along 543," Hawley said.

Hawley provided a copy of his research on the impacts of the project that show nearly 250 additional dwellings are being built in the surrounding area, in addition to the proposed 658 units that make up the combined single-family homes and the retirement community at Eva Mar.

"We already have a problem with public safety, with accidents between Route 1 and Route 22, and it's only going to get worse without major improvements [to the transportation network] because it's going to take an integrated approach," he said.

Developers presented concept plans for the homes and retirement community during the April DAC meeting, where committee members had few comments.

"It's just a general layout of the uses and the road network," county Planning Director Pete Gutwald said of the concept plan previously reviewed.

Gutwald said committee members will have more detailed comments about the preliminary plans and where they should be improved, as well as the traffic impact analysis that has been prepared.

"Each of the agencies will review it, just like the concept plan, but with a lot more detail to it," he explained.

Moe Davenport, chief of development review and chairman of DAC, said the preliminary plan "is just more specific, with the open space [uses], the walking trails, the building layouts for the CCRC (retirement community)."

The plans for the residential community and the retirement community are separate items on the meeting agenda.

"We will be reviewing them simultaneously," Davenport said. "The community will have an opportunity to comment on them individually or together."

Davenport said the committee has held public reviews of the concept and preliminary plans for projects since the county's zoning code was updated in 2008. Only preliminary plans were reviewed by the committee before then.

He explained there is usually a three-to-six month period between reviews of concept and preliminary plans.

Hawley praised the developers for changes they made to the plans while going through community input meetings during the winter, including reducing the size of the retirement community by about 200 units and moving it away from its previous location bumping against neighboring homes.

The current plans call for a buffer between the retirement community and homes along Amyclae Drive, plus adding sidewalks and bicycle paths along the community's portion of Route 543.

Hawley said he would prefer not to see such a major development in his community, but "if it's going to be there, they've made some progress in making it better."

Joseph Snee, the Bel Air attorney who has represented the developers and is a Presbyterian Home board member, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Presbyterian Home originally planned to build a similar retirement community near Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, called the Village of Carsins Run, but abandoned that plan in 2011 after city officials refused to follow through with a tax break sought by the developer in exchange for building infrastructure serving the new community. A related attempt to tie the developer's tax break to state legislation enabling a long-sought lodging tax in Aberdeen fizzled in Annapolis the same year.



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