A county councilman’s bill limiting developer and negotiating rights underwent significant changes at the hands of the sponsor in an effort to loosen some of the restrictions set in the original bill.
Councilman Steve McKay (R) added five amendments to his originally drafted legislation on developer rights and responsibilities agreements. DRRAs are long-term deals between county government and developers, and define what is expected from both sides in terms of land use, public benefits and possible infrastructure requirements.
McKay’s amendments include:
- Dropping the minimum number of units for a DRRA from 1,500 to 900
- If the development is a mixed-use development district, that number drops to 600 units
- Increasing the maximum length of DRRAs from five to eight years
- Defining the timeframe for an enhanced public benefit to be provided by the developer, either through a letter, credit or bond for construction-related projects; or transferring land to the county prior to the end of the DRRA
McKay said the amendments stemmed, in part, from hearing criticism from the local development community and feedback from the county Planning Commission.
At a planning commission last month, the county’s planning department said the bill as written would largely be ineffective, because the county is unlikely to see any more developments large enough to fall in the bill’s scope.
He added, however, that the bill still is meant for the initial construction of development, not for entire build-outs.
“The principal aim for me is always to be clear that the DRRA is not, and never was intended, to last through buildout,” McKay said. “So once we get past that, we all agree that it’s something that’s supposed to last for this beginning period.”
“I accept the duration of that beginning period can be subject to interpretation,” he added.
McKay was specifically talking about vesting — when there has been some evidence of build-out at a development site. That varies from project to project, depending on size and scope, he said.
Another key amendment, he said, is the guarantee of an enhanced public benefit. Enhanced public benefits can either be a transfer of land or construction of something, like an interchange, playground or other community project.
For those latter projects, ensuring a bond, line of credit or some other financial guarantee is critical, McKay said.
“They might not be able to build that wing until deep into the project where they’ve sold a number of homes, long after the DRRA is gone,” McKay said about developers and construction-related enhanced public benefits. “But we need something that is a financial instrument that guarantees that they will do it.”
McKay is holding firm on getting some sort of bill passed, given what he believes were bad deals county officials experienced when more than a dozen DRRAs were approved by the last Board of County Commissioners between 2010 and 2014.
Officials previously said the county did not receive any sort of enhanced public benefit from many of them. Several were for 20 years or more, while containing much less than 1,500 housing units.
The council will vote next Tuesday to add the amendments. Then, a public hearing will be held about the bill with those amendments the following week, and a final vote on the bill would likely occur a week after that.
Council leadership discusses budget issues in districts
As the council worked through budget issues in multiple workshops Wednesday and Thursday, its members constantly found themselves working through major priorities: education, and public safety.
Those two items make up over 70 percent of the proposed operating budget. So for Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) and Vice President Michael Blue (R), those are the two most important areas.
Once they talk about their respective districts, however, the priorities start to differ.
Keegan-Ayer, who represents District 3 — including the western part of Frederick and the Golden Mile — pointed to two issues: traffic and economic development.
Traffic backs up onto the Golden Mile off of Interstate 70 and U.S. 15, and then that stretch of road becomes populated, she said. Economic development has also been a struggle in the area — something she said she is continually trying to improve.
“We’ve done some incentive programs and we are trying to help incentivize the businesses to locate there, but ... people would be very unhappy with us if we were actually trying to drive business there through governmental intervention,” Keegan-Ayer said. “So we have to incentivize them to want to locate there.”
And then, there’s District 5, represented by Blue. He identified senior services, social services and transportation as issues that need to be addressed, especially as the population continues to age.
“There’s a lot of issues related to up county ... as far as getting people to be able to get from Thurmont and Emmitsburg back into the urban area of Frederick,” Blue said.
“It’s not a surprise, but it’s just eye-opening,” he said about the growing senior population. “I’m going to be turning 60, so that’s only five years from now, I’ll be 65, and thinking, maybe we ought to start paying attention to the senior population. [County government has] been, it just hasn’t been on my radar until the last year or two.”