Bel Air's bid for a town park on Hoza property to go forward HARFORD COUNTY

February 03, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Suburban sprawl has swallowed just about all the open space left in booming Bel Air.

Now, the largest undeveloped tract within the town limits -- 47 acres of forest, wetlands and sloping open land along Churchville Road -- is on its way to becoming the town's largest public recreation area.

Bel Air's town commissioners unanimously approved Monday a final amendment to an agreement with Harford County that would transfer the land to the town of Bel Air, essentially clearing the way for the park plans to go forward.

"This property is probably the last within the incorporated limits that we can look at for substantial open space," said Carol L. Deibel, Bel Air's planning director. "We have absolutely nothing else of any size in Bel Air.

"This is our first chance, and probably our last, to do a real 'community' park, not just a neighborhood playground. It will be a tremendous asset to the community."

Harford County purchased the land, which stretches along the south side of Churchville Road just west of the John Carroll School, for $2 million from Jenovefa Hoza in 1990 out of concern for keeping some green space in an area highly vulnerable to development.

Ms. Deibel and others on the Hoza Park Committee of town, county and recreation department officials have been working with two design and engineering firms to develop a comprehensive plan for the space.

The consultants' report goes to the committee for review Feb. 16.

Ms. Deibel said the committee's preliminary plans include two Little League ball fields, nature trails, a jogging area, a larger baseball field, picnic grounds and a parking area.

While planners would like to see preliminary work begin this summer, Ms. Deibel admitted that may be optimistic, since budget allocations to Harford County's Department of Parks and Recreation -- the primary funding source for the park -- are still undetermined.

Stanley Kozenewski, director of the parks department, said construction probably won't begin until 1994. He says the department has requested $300,000 in the budget year beginning July 1, 1993, but added, "There's no guarantee that money will be there."

"We know there's no way to come up with the money in one shot," he says, "so we will be developing the park in phases."

The protracted development doesn't bother William McFaul, Bel Air town manager. He's just happy the land is being preserved.

"This is great stuff. This is one of the best things that has happened to Bel Air since I've been with the town government," said Mr. McFaul, who has lived in Bel Air for nearly two decades. The Hoza property was zoned for heavy residential development when the county began discussions with Mrs. Hoza in the late 1980s.

Harford County purchased the land using state Project Open Space money in 1990 with the intention of eventually transferring ownership and maintenance responsibilities to Bel Air. The amendment passed by the commissioners Monday agrees to reimburse the county for legal expenses incurred in the transfer should the town violate any deed restrictions agreed in the sale.

Mrs. Hoza and her late husband, John, purchased the property in 1950.

The family, which has retained five acres for its homestead at the western end of the property, has said the senior Hozas were intent on preserving the green space and wanted citizens to enjoy the land.

Ms. Deibel, who has said the park could be a "beautiful gateway to the county seat," says there's little likelihood the town would abuse deed restrictions, most of which call for preservation of forested areas and wetlands.

Ms. Deibel said long-range goals include a nature trail system extending into the marshy area, perhaps using boardwalks over the streambed, an arboretum with trees indigenous to the area and a gazebo.

Meanwhile, Ms. Deibel said, the first efforts at developing the park may be by community service groups, including high school students and Scout troops, who have volunteered to do some spring planting of flower gardens along the eastern border of the property.

In addition, she said, a separate allocation of $1,500 to the town of Bel Air may be used this summer to start landscaping, including a buffer of hedges between houses in Homestead Village and the property.

"We also hope to plant some trees along Churchville Road so that people will see that something is in the works," Ms. Deibel said.

She said this last bit of open space is significant because the only other developed parks in Bel Air are small -- six acres or fewer -- and have minimal recreational facilities. The only ball-playing fields in town are on school grounds, she said, and the only other sizable land tract in the area is Heavenly Waters Park, just outside the town limits.

While it consists of 400 acres of mostly undeveloped land, it also is home to the Tollgate dump, making it less than inviting as a recreational spot, Ms. Deibel said.

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