At the intersection of Old Joppa Road and Business U.S. 1 near Bel Air, plans for a pharmacy, convenience store and fast-food restaurant near county parkland have sparked angry residents to mount a neighbor-to-neighbor campaign to fight the proposals.
Winters Run Preservation Association met late last week at a member's home, with maps spread across the coffee table and propped in front of the TV, plotting who they've reached - and where they need to go to be heard.
They plan to address the County Council on March 16, and they've been meeting neighbors wherever they can, from morning walks to the polling place, urging them to come along.
"We're concerned about the deterioration of a quality of life here," said Michael Pons, president of the group and owner of nearby Country Life Farm, adding that the area is one of the few beautiful stretches of the two-lane highway. "We're going to just let it all go without a fight? I don't think so."
The area where the projects are proposed sits along a tributary of Winters Run, Bel Air's drinking water source, and near a slice of Heavenly Waters Park called Soma, a historic property the county bought several years ago for about $430,000.
The county hopes to tie walking and horseback-riding trails into the property and connect it with Edgeley Grove Farm, the Equestrian Center and other portions of Heavenly Waters to the north, say parks and planning officials.
The preservation group wants the county to preserve what's left of the area's historic and rural character; safeguard the Winters Run tributary that runs behind the proposed gas pumps and convenience store; and protect the investment made in the parkland, which is reached through the land where the convenience store would be.
Michael A. Euler, a Fallston developer who is the managing partner of Soma LLC and 1215 Baltimore Pike LLC, the parcels' owners, said the groups have chosen the convenience store, pharmacy and fast-food restaurant largely because they conform to the zoning restrictions.
"We're going to come up with a plan that tries to make everyone as happy as possible," he said. But, he added, it's easy for developers of the parcels to feel frustrated, too.
He points to another property he is developing, the 37-acre site where Fallston Hospital stood for years. Three acres of the site were zoned commercial, he said, and the group asked for 4 acres to be rezoned to that designation. In return, it would create a 30-acre arboretum with the remaining land. The community rebuffed the proposal.
"You can say no [to development] and you take what you get by zoning," Euler said of community opposition. "Or you come to the table and negotiate rationally."
In the case of the Fallston Hospital site, he said, "we chose the path of least resistance" - no variances or exceptions were required for homes to be built on the site.
The Business U.S. 1 corridor between Fallston and Bel Air is among the county's busiest for development proposals. In recent months, according to the planning department, 13 projects have been proposed, from convenience stores and strip shopping centers to a community of 300 age-restricted townhouses and condominiums.
Another primary concern in developing the intersection with Old Joppa Road is traffic. The owners of the land parcels proposed for development are required to submit traffic-impact analyses to the county and state, said Nancy Lipski of the planning and zoning department, but neither group has yet.
Steven Bavett, who owns the Graystone Lodge, a historic stone house next to Soma LLC's parcel, said he would like to see a traffic light at the intersection. Last week, he said, he watched an accident happen as someone tried to make a left from Old Joppa Road onto U.S. 1.
"No one was seriously injured, but the point is clear," he said. "Traffic will never get better."
At the two nearest intersections monitored by the State Highway Administration, U.S. 1 and Harford Road and U.S. 1 and Tollgate Road, average daily traffic ranges from 22,000 vehicles a day to 27,000, said spokesman David Buck.
In the past five years, there have been no fatalities at Old Joppa Road and U.S. 1 and an average of two accidents a year. "That doesn't preclude fender benders where police reports are not filed," Buck said.
But with low numbers like that, he said, the intersection has not been a priority for review by the state. "There are no numbers that are alarming here in any sense," he said.
Neighbors around the intersection disagree - especially if a burger stand's patrons are pulling out onto Old Joppa, a narrow, shoulderless country road. They also wonder whether the Graystone Lodge will have a hard time drawing customers if its surroundings become a 24-hour gas-and-go store.