The following letter was sent by the Abingdon Community Council to the Harford County Council. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication:
The Abingdon Community Council wishes to bring to your attention a very important matter which continues to be vocalized at every meeting and hearing in our area. Traffic congestion and public safety issues due to increased traffic are growing major concerns as more and more development is undertaken. Citizens continue to vent frustrations that nobody seems to be examining the bigger picture of how all of the various projects converge and negatively impact the overall traffic and safety situation. Resident calls for more comprehensive traffic studies are a consistent and ongoing request. The Abingdon Community Council agrees there is an urgent need for action by the county to address these concerns.
We are writing to request your support and enact a review of current planning and zoning policies within the development envelope due to considerable public sentiment that such growth, though necessary, has been undertaken in too hasty a manner as to be beneficial to Harford County and its residents in the long term. While traffic congestion and road safety are the most obvious impacts of ill-managed growth, issues can extend into all parts of life.
It is clear to us that the current system of reviewing and approving development projects in purely sequential and isolated steps fails to take a holistic and comprehensive view of the rapid and expansive growth in a dynamic area like the designated growth envelope.
This complexity should require some kind of additional evaluation process that might not be needed outside this area, or perhaps it requires changes to the process we already have. Currently, intersections, traffic studies, land conservation, emergency services, water service, etc., are all reviewed either independently along the scope of impact for each project or periodically by each appropriate department.
We understand the purpose and importance of the comprehensive zoning process and acknowledge all the work currently done by Planning and Zoning, the Department of Public Works, and associated agencies with regards to development proposals and approvals, as well as the legal requirements of having a fair and expedient process. However, some kind of additional layer of review seems to be necessary to ascertain the capability and sustainability of communities in the growth envelope to maintain a sensible and smart pace of growth.
This additional layer could consist of conducting periodic reviews and reports on various town centers, community council areas, or other clearly identifiable zones. Perhaps it requires the formation of a committee or council to confer with the appropriate agencies in order to develop new policies or determine if all current policies are properly followed. It may require an audit of existing policies. It may require redefining or expanding zoning classifications, so that projections for the future can be improved.
It will likely require a review of our Adequate Public Facilities (APF) plan, which was created and designed to smartly control growth in our county. There appear to be deficiencies in the current APF plan. For example, the traffic requirements state that for projects to be approved intersections must have a grade of “D” or better within the development envelope (Planning and Zoning code Section 126). We do not believe that “D” is an “adequate” grade. Most people would consider “C” to be acceptable and we urge you raise these standards. Carroll County, which is maybe most similar to Harford, uses the same system and their requirement is “C” grades for intersections. We realize increasing these standards runs the risk of slowing growth, but that is not our intent, nor do we believe it would be a problem as other areas with similar standards have had growth similar to Harford County. Please refer to the Maryland Department of Planning APFO Inventory (2012) for reference as to the APF requirements used across Maryland.
Similarly, we urge you to consider expanding the current APF plan to include stormwater, fire, and police criteria for development projects, as the current one does not have specific standards for these critical areas.
The singular goal of any action should be to take what is now a process that largely examines each project on its own merits and faults, and apply a “big picture” approach that will bring together multiple projects in proximity to each other in some fashion that just simply makes more sense for the local community and the county, while still working within the legal requirements of our laws and regulations.
We do not think it is realistic to view every proposal in isolation from likely future projects. Though it might be legally necessary to approve or deny projects in this manner, it may not have to be the only way they are evaluated and we strongly urge you to take up this effort to enhance the quality of living and doing business in Harford County for years to come.
Please advise us on what immediate action can be taken and how we can work together to create ongoing comprehensive traffic studies and better planning and zoning codes for Harford County.
Cynthia Hergenhahn, Chairperson
C. David Copenhaver • Carlin Cook • Earl Grey • Gregory A. Beaty • Joan Hamilton
Recording Secretary: Donna Copenhaver