County to call land surplus

Zoning department concerns stall effort to auction half-acre in heavy flood zone

June 18, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

The county is declaring as surplus a half-acre of land in one of the heaviest local flood zones, after buying up property to keep flood-threatened land away from private owners to avoid damage and insurance issues.

Part of the half-acre lies in the county's Bynum Run floodway, a flow path that carries significant volumes of water during a flood. The county has restrictions that make it virtually impossible to build in the floodway. It also has restrictions on development in the nearby floodplain.

The land that will be declared surplus is next to property that was recently acquired by Bel Air Mayor Terence O. Hanley, who said he petitioned the county to make the half-acre available.

He recently purchased the property at 809 Conowingo Road, a former barber shop that is also in the floodplain and floodway. He is leasing that property to a friend for a landscaping business.

"With a good plan, with proper engineering, there is definite value there, even with the restrictions," Hanley said. "If not, I'm gonna sell pumpkins. It would make one heck of a produce stand."

Concerns from the county Department of Planning and Zoning, which was not informed of the land being declared surplus, have recently stalled efforts to auction the land. Among the concerns - the land fits the criteria of properties the county has tried to acquire in the past under the Federal Emergency Management Agency's repetitive loss program.

"That whole area is of concern for us," said Pete Gutwald, county director of planning and zoning. "We have raised environmental concerns and also easement concerns with future water and sewer. Those things are all being discussed right now, which is why it hasn't been surplussed."

Director of Procurement Debbie Henderson said the surplus land was part of an effort to sell the county's nonessential properties. She would not say how many other properties the county is planning to sell, but acknowledged that the county moved on the half-acre on Conowingo Road after Hanley inquired.

"We're hoping we can sell more properties," Henderson said. "It's to the county's benefit. We get more property back on the tax rolls, and there's less cost to maintain them."

Despite falling in the floodplain, the half-acre is zoned B-3, the most intense business zoning available. Several other businesses exist in the floodplain, including the Del Haven Service Center, an upholstery store and a 7-Eleven.

For years, however, the county government has sought to curb further development in Harford's floodplains, acquiring property throughout the 1980s and 1990s that was consistently damaged by floods, said Matt Kropp, director of the county's floodplain management program.

"There was a period of years where we went in and took something that was somebody's home, deemed it a floodplain area, destroyed the structure and restored it to something that would accommodate heavy rainfall," said County Council President Robert S. Wagner.

He said the push for the county council's approval for declaring surplus land came from "across the road," meaning the county government building.

Land records show the county acquired the half-acre in 1994 from then-owner Julia F. Moats for free, according to the deed, and has held it ever since.

Meanwhile, Hanley's property at 809 Conowingo was sold in 2004 by the estate of Felix M. Irwin to Denis Kozlovsky, who said he wanted to build a home but found the county's guidelines too restrictive.

Last fall, he sold it to Hanley for $60,000, according to records.

"I was told I could relocate [the property], which I didn't want to do, or elevate it, which I didn't want to do," said Kozlovski, 59. "Not only was it in the floodplain, but they considered it abandoned, and I was told there was no way I could do what I wanted to do, codewise."

Once an eyesore, Hanley said he has cleaned up his property and would like to acquire the adjoining half-acre to gain more flexibility for development.

Presently, longtime friend Christopher Greig has been operating a landscaping business on the site and said he hopes to eventually acquire the land from Hanley.

"Whatever the county decides to do, hopefully, is consistent with floodplain regulations," Kropp said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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