Bel Air Farm Back On Market, Targeted For Development

September 29, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

An 89-acre farm outside Bel Air, once targeted for a 500,000-square-foot shopping mall, is back on the market with a $3.6 million price tag.

The land -- a scenic, hilly site between the U.S. 1 bypass andbusiness routes in Benson -- is designated for high-density development. Most of the property, bordered by Winters Run to the north and the Briarwood Inn to the south, is zoned for agricultural.

The sale, resulting from the bankruptcy of the former owner, SomaLtd., is being handled by the O'Conor, Piper & Flynn real estate office in Towson.

The real estate agency has had about a dozen inquiries since the land went on the market two months ago, said Tim Hearn,spokesman for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn.

"We've had interest in the site," Hearn said. "But the interest that we've had is not at that level (of the $3.6 million price)."

He noted that the potential buyers have not expressed interest in building a large mall at the site. He said the buyers are looking at the site for residential and small commercial development.

Nineteen acres of the tract, across from the Country Life horse farm on U.S. 1, is zoned for commercial development, Hearn said. The remaining land is zoned for agricultural uses. The site is not served by public water and sewer.

Hearn said the tract's location offers high visibility and access to major roads for retail businesses.

The Soma partnership unsuccessfully sought zoning changes from the county in 1989 when Harford was writing a new comprehensive zoning code. Soma wanted commercial zoning that would permit a mall, between 500,000 and 800,000 square feet, to be built at the site in 1989.

At that time, other developers were seeking zoningchanges for two other shopping malls. Those proposals included Windsor Mall at the Route 24-Interstate 95 interchange and Bynum Station mall in Forest Hill.

All three proposals were eventually rejected by the county.

At the time Soma sought zoning changes for the property to build the mall, the county Department of Planning and Zoning said the property was ill-suited for a large retail project.

Planners voiced concern over traffic access for the site and the tract's proximity to Winters Run, which supplies water for Bel Air-area residents.

"We've never had those concerns resolved. That's where we stand now," said William Carroll, the county's director of Department of Planning and Zoning.

Carroll said residential development would bemore acceptable for the site, but developers would still need zoningchanges before they could build any houses.

Winters Run could be protected from water and erosion runoff by installing storm-water management equipment on the site if a development were proposed for the property, but the traffic access issue would need a detailed study, Carroll said.

The Soma partnership, controlled by Bel Air developerLangford Ltd., filed for protection from its creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore last December.

The partnership defaulted on a $2.4 million loan issued by Atlantic Federal Savings Bank of Towson to buy the Benson site in November 1988, according to records in Harford Circuit Court.

Langford, one of the biggest developers in Harford during the 1980s, also filed for bankruptcy protection in October 1990.

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