A proposed six-month moratorium on warehouse developments in Harford County could end up driving businesses to locate elsewhere in the region. County officials say the pause would allow for a review of policies that were first set long before an explosion in warehouse developments.
On Feb. 1, Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly announced legislation that would impose a temporary six-month moratorium on approvals or permits for warehouse developments. The legislation was introduced on Feb. 14 and a public hearing on the legislation is scheduled for March 14.
Matt Laraway, a partner with Chesapeake Real Estate Group, believes the county could miss out if the moratorium is approved by the Harford County Council. His firm is developing the Mitchell Property on the Perryman Peninsula and could be directly affected by the decision. He notes there is a large group of people such as investors and developers impacted by a moratorium.
“All of those parties really like consistency and predictability when it comes to permitting, entitlements and ownership so it is affecting people’s desire to be there (in Harford County),” he said. “We have talked to a few folks that have expressed interest in our site and because there is a very unpredictable timeline as to when and if we can deliver a building, they decided to focus elsewhere. So when they see a county government is not interested in more warehouses it concerns them because there are people that are already there that could end up in a situation where if things change they are going to be in a building with no conforming use and that won’t be good for investors or lenders.”
County officials say a temporary pause would help control an industry that has seen rapid growth in recent years.
“When our zoning code was created in 1982, these facilities did not exist nor were they anticipated,” said Sam Kahl, Harford County public information officer. “If passed by the County Council, the six-month pause would allow for a comprehensive review of the impacts to the community, economy, and natural environment surrounding where these facilities are located. At the end of the six-month period or sooner, the administration may propose changes to the zoning code that address the appropriate location of warehousing facilities and impacts on the quality of life in surrounding communities.”
Kahl notes the nature and impacts of today’s warehousing and distribution facilities are significantly greater than what could have been anticipated at the time when warehousing and processing facilities were originally inserted into the zoning code as permitted uses.”
The county has seen an outcry from residents in recent years over the Abingdon Business Park, a planned mixed use development featuring warehouse space stretching over more than 2 million square feet on 326 acres of forested land. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation filed a lawsuit in 2020 asking for a judicial review of the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning’s approval of the forest conservation plan for Abingdon Business Park. The lawsuit is still making its way through the court.
Laraway does not understand the need for a review. “The development process has been designed to study those same things,” he said. “When we move forward to build a building, we have to prove adequate public facilities. We’ve got to get traffic inspected and studied” as well as environmental sustainability and stormwater management. The moratorium “will definitely impact people’s company’s desire to want to be in Harford County and people’s desire to invest in Harford County. That is certainly going to have an impact.”
Baltimore and Cecil counties are Harford’s neighbors and could potentially see increased interest if an investor or company was looking to settle in the greater Baltimore area. However, there is a possibility of the entity deciding not to come to Maryland at all. Laraway notes when someone is looking for 600,000 to 1 million square feet, they typically run regional logistic models looking at large areas such as Lehigh Valley, Southern New Jersey, Maryland and the I-81 corridor. They also look for where they can find the most labor so this could lead to other out of state choices.
A message left with the Baltimore and Cecil County Economic Development offices were not returned.
Kahl noted Harford is a wonderful county and the citizens deserve first-rate government.
“Done properly, land use regulations protect private property rights, maintains and improves our quality of life, and promotes a strong economy. The Cassilly administration will do its absolute best to achieve this critical balance of interests. Mega warehouse and distribution centers pose unique challenges that are being experienced across our region, especially along the I-95 corridor. This pause will allow time to further complete a review of the impacts of these facilities on neighboring communities, our local economy, and the surrounding environment and ensure the zoning code is correctly accounting for all of these.”