If there was any doubt that growth management is the major issue facing Harford County, it was dispelled last week when the Bel Air Town Commissioners turned down a proposed annexation of land planned for development of 151 single-family homes.
Rejection of the 73-acre tract on the northwest outskirts came on a 2-to-2 tie vote, with the fifth commissioner abstaining because of personal ties to the land owners. The same O'Neill family property had been proposed for annexation in 1989 and was also denied approval by the commissioners.
Hundreds of residents signed a petition opposing the annexation. Neighbors of the O'Neill land feared unmanageable traffic congestion along the single street entering the housing development. There were concerns the development would overburden local schools.
On the other hand, the developer pledged to build the houses even without town annexation, under county code and law. The decision was only whether Bel Air or Harford County would have control over the development, he argued.
The tie-vote underlined the strong division of community opinion over the proposal, which would have allowed construction of $200,000-plus homes. It's a complicated issue; the verdict didn't center on which jurisdiction's requirements are tougher. Amendments offered to the Bel Air council for approving the annexation included strict requirements on the developer to meet school, road and sewer system needs.
But one important factor swung the vote of Commissioner Russell Poole against annexation: Residential developments are money-losing propositions for the jurisdiction that must provide services for these new residents over the long run.
That's a dollars-and-cents view that will increasingly influence future growth decisions. It was the message preached by Jeffrey D. Wilson, the retiring County Council president. That conclusion was bolstered by a recent economic impact analysis of BLC Properties' development at Riverside; only the inclusion of industrial/business properties with residential housing in the development resulted in a net revenue gain for Harford County.
That doesn't mean closing the doors to new housing and new residents. But it does mean that municipalities and counties can be expected to take a harder look at the longer-term economics of development before making decisions that can have a significant impact on the local treasury.