Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreements in Frederick County

Rather than limit the terms of long-term agreements between the county and developers, perhaps the option should be eliminated altogether.

So agreed the majority of the Frederick County Council, which on Tuesday signed off on changes to legislation that would strike the provisions for such agreements from the county code. The amendment was introduced by Councilman Tony Chmelik (R) and passed by a 5-2 vote, with Republican councilmen Kirby Delauter and Billy Shreve opposed.

The amended bill comes after legislation put forth by County Executive Jan Gardner (D) that sought to impose greater restrictions for the Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreements (DRRAs) that lock into place local zoning laws, rules and regulations. Gardner has criticized the overly expansive terms of 14 DRRA-governed development projects approved under the former Board of County Commissioners, which she said led to funding shortfalls in school construction and road projects.

The prior agreements, many of which span up to 25 years, also limited the county’s oversight and legislative ability on major swaths of the county, according to Ray Barnes, the county’s acting chief administrative officer, in comments at an earlier meeting.

Gardner’s original proposal sought to limit future agreements to projects with 1,500 or more homes and shorten the length the agreement could last to a maximum of 10 years. Her bill also required developers to provide enhanced public benefits — incentives such as land, infrastructure or school funding beyond what zoning ordinances or other county laws require — in exchange for the certainties the agreements provide.

The proposal attracted a mix of support and opposition at a public hearing last week. Chmelik framed his amendment as an attempt to simplify the complexity of the topic and end the disagreement.

As amended by the council Tuesday, such agreements would be off the table for future development projects of all sizes and scope. The terms of the 14 existing DRRA-governed projects would still be upheld.

Asked whether this will supersede state regulations, which also allow local governments to enter into long-term agreements with developers, County Attorney John Mathias was uncertain.

Chmelik said that the long-term agreements were a good option, however, noting that if a developer were to come forward seeking such an agreement from the county, the council could consider legislation to revive the option at the time.

Gardner, in a phone interview after the meeting, said she is “fine” with the amendments. The option for long-term agreements could provide some benefits for the county through the defined public benefits she proposed, but those benefits can also come through other agreements such as the provisions of rezoning, she said.

MIXED-USE DISTRICT BILL AMENDED

A proposal aimed at reviving the long-delayed Jefferson Technology Park with warehouse and distribution centers also attracted a flurry of amendments at the council meeting Tuesday.

Under the county’s current zoning ordinance, MXD-zoned projects can include residential, commercial, institutional and employment uses, with employment use defined as office, research and light manufacturing. The bill introduced by council President Bud Otis (unaffiliated) adds warehouse, wholesale and distribution activities to the list of employment uses.

New and existing MXD projects could benefit from the legislation as drafted, including those that signed Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreements (DRRAs) that locked in place the zoning laws and other county requirements.

Legal concerns over whether the changes should apply to these long-term agreements, essentially binding contracts, created questions and concerns at a public hearing earlier this month. Critics also said the proposal was unfair to property owners who already bought homes in MXD-zoned projects without knowing the adjacent land could become warehouse sites with truck traffic, overnight operations and outdoor storage.

The eight amendments proposed by various council members Tuesday sought to address some of these concerns. Three changes were approved, one was defeated, and the remaining four were withdrawn because they conflicted with changes the council had already passed.

Two approved changes relate to where warehouse-type operations could be within a MXD-zoned project: banning them within 1 mile of any land zoned for light industrial use and preventing them from sharing a common driveway or abutting school sites. A third amendment clarifies how the bill applies to existing projects by taking out any mention of DRRAs. Instead, any mixed-use projects with a phase two approval plan could incorporate the new use through the standard process of an application and hearing before the Frederick County Planning Commission.

All but one of the changes were shared with council staff and fellow council members at or shortly before the meeting, creating several instances in which confusion and lack of preparedness complicated the council’s discussion. The council’s rules of procedure state that amendments should be submitted to staff for preparation and legal review at least three business days before the scheduled vote, which would be Friday for a Tuesday meeting.

The council will hold public hearings on the amended DRRA and MXD bills at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, according to Ragen Cherney, council chief of staff.

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @NancyKLavin.

Nancy Lavin covers social services, demographics and religion for The Frederick News-Post.

(7) comments

public-redux

Getting rid of long term agreements means you can shake down the monied interests every election cycle. It is astonishing to me that Billy and # haven't figured that out yet.

DeltaOne

Shreve's "who are you representing" exchange with Mathias was entertaining. Nice to see Mathias stand up to him.

I'm a fan of But Otis...but wish he would speak up more and take control of the meeting. He's not a meeting facilitator...he's president of the council!

I'm curious...why did the council's representation change from Kearney to Chomel?

elymus43

It looks like Tony wants to get reelected again?????????? The developers, builders, and realtors need him???

hayduke2

Hmm - suddenly Tony decides to get rid of the DRRA's that he said nothing about in the past. Being a bit suspicious of Tony's motivation is in order - this is probably something the developer's want.

stevemckay

Interesting developments at the Council meeting. On the MXD bill, I really want to see the proposed new text. If they’ve removed the DRRA references, then that should eliminate my primary objection. The original proposal was just bad policy and probably violated State law. As far as the zoning mix, I think they may have more work to do.

The DRRA amendment was really interesting. So basically Tony’s approach seemed to be, rather than agreeing on reasonable limitations on the tool, just get rid of them! Ok, fine. Interestingly, this has also been the builders argument. So while it may seem that Tony Chmelik is suddenly working against developers, he actually did precisely what they suggested. I suspect the goal is to wait for another development-friendly govt to revisit the issue. Personally, I think there was room for reasonable limitations on DRRAs but if they’d rather get rid of them entirely - fine by me.[scared]

FrederickFan

Residential development DRRA's were a legal tool abused by the Young, Delauter, and Shreve Board to guarantee/lock in the profits of their largest campaign contributors. SInce they are typically used to abuse taxpayer rights, residential DRRAs have no value to an ethical local government, like the one presently headed by CE Jan Gardner, wanting to protect the present and future interests of taxpayers. At some point in the future, Frederick County may again elect unethical, self-serving leadership like the Young, Delauter, and Shreve Board, so "outlawing" DRRAs does have some potential value in the distant future.

I agree that the interesting thing about this vote was Chmelik's behavior. I think you are right. While Delauter and Shreve probably have no idea what's really going on, and their first primitive instinct is to defend their past abuse of taxpayers, Chmelik is a little more calculating. He may have seen this as an opportunity to give the misleading appearance of suddenly caring about taxpayers on an issue of no practical value to the short term interests of the residential building industry. I understand he is facing an exceptionally strong opponent in the Republican primary for District 2 County Council, and therefore may have decided to stop offending his constituents.

shiftless88

He and Bud are both positioning themselves ahead of the election

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