At a time when curbing growth in Harford County is the topic of task forces, dinner tables and countless council meetings, Havre de Grace is moving ahead with plans to annex land and add as many as 2,500 homes in the next 10 years.
While officials and residents are watching the proposals closely, few objections have been raised. Perhaps it's because the city of about 13,000, unlike other areas of the county, has room to grow, officials say: The schools have empty seats, the water and sewer system have excess capacity.
Mayor David R. Craig said the city is best equipped to handle the inevitable growth in the area, which is seeing an increase in residents from places such as Wilmington, Philadelphia and even New York, drawn to the Chesapeake Bay-side lifestyle.
"Havre de Grace has 200 years of experience handling development," Craig said, recalling the city's start as a Colonial crossroads, and emergence as one of the county's industrial centers.
The growth would occur on the city's west side, around Bulle Rock Golf Course, between U.S. 40 and Chapel Road. A planned adult community - a dense, deluxe brand of development targeting people age 50 and older - would make up the bulk of the new homes. But, officials acknowledge, they may not be able to prevent families with children from buying in - which would have an impact on schools.
And nearly 500 other planned homes aren't being marketed so specifically.
These residences, most with prices starting in the $300,000 range, would bring a new kind of housing stock to the city. Craig estimates the property tax generated from these new homes could equal that of the 5,500 other homes in the city.
But more important, he said, the influx of new residents would feed a resurgence the city began to feel a decade or so ago, during the last growth push, when communities such as Grace Harbour and Bayview Estates were built, adding about 1,000 homes.
Since then, he said, churches, recreational sports leagues and other community programs have blossomed, too, after years on the wane. "I think those kinds of things are more important than the dollars and cents of growth," Craig said.
"It's a good project. It's going to do great things," said County Executive James M. Harkins of Bulle Rock, which plans to include a convention center and hotel.
Harkins said that in all projects some parts are more appealing than others. Though the county would have to share revenue with the city, and the golf course the county had hoped to retain is now proposed for city annexation, the overall situation is still very positive for the county.
"You can't look at things with just blinders on," Harkins said. "You have to look at the bigger picture."
County Councilwoman Cecelia M. Stepp, a Republican who represents Havre de Grace and surrounding areas, said she has heard primarily from people concerned with whether the city's water and sewer system can handle the homes.
"That's going to be one of the questions I'm going to ask - and what kind of an impact is it going to have on schools," she said.
Don Morrison, schools spokesman said, "Of all our school [districts] in the county, it's the one that has a little bit of room."
According to last year's figures, Meadowvale Elementary is at 86 percent of capacity; Havre de Grace Elementary, 69 percent; Havre de Grace Middle, 83 percent, and Havre de Grace High, 81 percent, Morrison said.
This month, the county purchased property on nearby Paradise Road for a future school, said county administration director John J. O'Neill Jr. The site is large enough to accommodate both an elementary and middle school, if needed, he said.
Judy Blomquist, who lives outside Havre de Grace and is president of Friends of Harford, said: "Our concern has been what kind of development will go on there."
Friends would like to see an "appreciable part" of the land used for parkland, she added.
"Not tot lots, but real picnic areas, real trees, real playing fields - things that are considered a park," she said.
The city has annexed some of this land in the past four years, but has introduced resolutions to annex the Bulle Rock Golf Course and the Guzzo property, a 28.5 acre tract across Chapel Road from the Bulle Rock residential development.
The Guzzo property is slated for 82 upscale townhomes, also priced in the $300,000 range, said Donald J. Bautz Jr., manager of development services in the city's Department of Economic Development and Planning.
The city is also hoping to annex a property contiguous to the course, the Greenway farm, at a future date, Bautz said.
A mix of townhouses, single-family homes and condos has been proposed there, perhaps 400 homes, he said, but the designs have not been submitted to the city yet.
Bautz said part of the Bulle Rock development has included the addition of a new road, Bulle Rock Parkway, a two-lane thoroughfare that will carry traffic from the new homes to Route 155 and Interstate 95.
The city also asked the County Council last week to waive the mandated five-year waiting period to rezone these properties, a matter the council expects to consider next month.
Craig said annexing the golf course would add it to the city's planned expansion south along U.S. 40. "It's kind of a forgotten area in the county," Craig said.
Craig said annexing is a way for the city to guide the growth that will inevitably take place around its limits. He pointed to Bel Air as an example of why that control is important. Concentrated growth around the county seat's limits has created congestion headaches that Bel Air has to contend with, yet has little control over.
"I don't want that to happen to the city of Havre de Grace," he said. "Havre de Grace needs to have control over the area right outside the city."