Council expected to OK zoning


The Harford County Council is expected to adopt standards for a new mixed-office zoning district tomorrow night, a move that could help clear the way for an office park off Interstate 95 in the southeastern part of the county.

Zoned for agriculture, the land at I-95 and Route 543 is seen by officials as a prime spot for a campus of corporate offices, research and development facilities, high-tech services and retail space.

While general plans to rezone the area have been discussed for nearly a decade, officials said an office park's development now would coincide nicely with the thousands of high-tech jobs expected to flood the region in the next few years in the national military base consolidation.

"The market is hot right now," J. Thomas Sadowski, the county's economic development director, told the council last week. "There's a backlog of interest for Class A office space."

After adopting amendments to a bill setting development criteria for the land, the council agreed by a 4-3 vote to postpone the vote on the bill, which is expected this week. Some council members requested more time to review the language before voting, though none indicated they would vote against it.

Should the bill pass, it would clear another hurdle in rezoning a stretch of land that falls outside the county's designated growth area but has been targeted for development since 1996, when the Rouse Co. flirted with the idea of a $100 million regional mall. Those plans fizzled out amid opposition from the community.

Last year, officials began looking at the potential for a new mixed-use zoning classification as part of the county's first comprehensive rezoning in eight years. In public hearings held to discuss the 240-page master plan, residents balked at expansion beyond the growth envelope.

Councilman Robert G. Cassilly, a Republican representing Bel Air, said then that the proposed zoning for the land at I-95 and Route 543 could present the potential for too large a development under mixed-office use and that he was concerned about land preservation and protection of the county's water supply. Zoning officials agreed to make amendments to the bill.

On Tuesday, Cassilly questioned the inclusion of retail space in the zoning designation, saying that he feared land could be turned into a strip mall if not closely regulated. But he said he was satisfied with the amendments.

The bill outlines the minimum qualifications for a mixed-office zone in the county, said deputy county attorney Nancy L. Giorno. For development to move forward, a property would then have to be rezoned into the newly designated use.

"Hopefully, this will result in an MO district creation," Giorno said of the amended bill. ... You cannot zone a piece of property MO unless you have MO as a zoning district."

County Executive David Craig said that an office park development has not been proposed for the area. "There's not a specific parcel where we're saying, `That's where an office park can go,'" he said in an interview. "The potential is there, but there's no real office park on the table right now."

Judy Blomquist, president of Friends of Harford, told the council that the legislation for the new zoning district does not allow for a large enough buffer from surrounding agricultural land. She expressed concern for a dairy farm in the I-95/Route 543 area.

"If this goes ahead, you're pushing them out of business," she said. "We have to work cordially with what is already there."

Giorno said the county sees companies such as technology research firms among those targeting the site for development. They would generate jobs and increase the county's tax base, she said.

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