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letters to the editor - 120/02 - F7

January 22, 2002

letters to the editor - 1/20 - F7



County ordinance makes developers pay their fair share


To the editor:

I am responding to your editorial of Wednesday, Jan. 9, entitled "New projects require county road upgrades." Reference was made to two large residential development projects, one proposed between Marsh Pike and Leitersburg Pike and the other along Mt. Aetna Road, near the golf course.

After briefly summarizing the projects, you state: "even if the county government doesn't have the funds to fix these problems now, it must quickly take steps to secure rights-of-way and make sure that developers donate enough land - and cash - to deal with the increased traffic their projects will bring."

It may interest you to know that the County's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) and corresponding Road Adequacy Policy already address these needs. Both have been around for about 10 years and have already been put to the test. In fact, millions of dollars have been contributed by development projects in the past decade to address rights-of-way, actual highway improvements and other infrastructure impacted by new development. Allow me to share some specific examples.

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HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> The first major test of the APFO was the Robinwood Medical Center in the mid 1990s. In short, detailed traffic impact studies (known as TIS) revealed an obvious impact to surrounding roads and intersections. The developer was required to build Medical Campus Drive and extend Yale Drive to its intersection. In addition, a written agreement required that they participate in funding improvements to other roads and signal systems. Their total contribution was in excess of $1.5 million, plus consulting fees.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> The second major project was the Prime Retail Outlets on Md. 65 (Sharpsburg Pike). The developer was required to rebuild an interchange ramp at Interstate 70, widen the Sharpsburg Pike between the I-70 interchange and Oak Ridge Drive, and improve Oak Ridge Drive between the Sharpsburg Pike and the entrance to what was the Vocational Technical Center.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> The third and fourth major projects were the Valley Mall expansion and Target projects. The mall owner ended up bringing $5 million to the table toward improvements to the interchange at Interstate 81 and Halfway Boulevard, Massey Boulevard and Cole Road. About $900,000 has been reserved for improvements to the intersection at Halfway and Wesel boulevards. The two developers were also required to work cooperatively to rebuild Cole Road from a narrow, two-lane road to a five-lane road and to build a regional stormwater management pond.

The developer of the Target site also spent more than $1.6 million to extend Massey Boulevard to U.S. 11 (Virginia Avenue) and all improvements associated with the railroad crossing and intersection. At one point, the two developers would not come to terms on their financial contribution so the county issued a stop-work order on the projects until they did. This lasted more than 30 days until the two resolved their differences.

I've only given several examples of major projects; there are others. The development community understands the County's commitment to the APFO and Road Adequacy Policy. Can the policy be improved? We believe so and are exploring how other Counties are handling these same issues.

While development must pay its way, fairness and equity are important. This is not an easy task for a variety of reasons that time and space will not allow for in this letter. The current policy may put the burden on the last guy in the door. Although this can kill a project, such action may be necessary in the best interest of the community.

Since your editorial touched on Wal-Mart, I'll mention that the developer (not Wal-Mart) approached us about support for "waiving" our APFO to allow access onto Hebb Road without any financial obligations or improvements.

We took that opportunity to politely (but firmly) explain the purpose of the APFO - that development pay the cost of its impact on infrastructure. While we took no exception to their project, we pointed out why we believed their proposed location was flawed. We constructively explained how the projected impact to Edgewood Drive and surrounding areas would be enormous and detrimental. Other, more suitable locations in the Dual Highway corridor were suggested.

I disagree with your implications that the county is pretending that the two residential projects, about which you were writing, will not add significant traffic to existing roads. These projects only have approval for concept. Both projects must still pass the litmus test of the APFO and Road Adequacy. Detailed analysis will be required of each as specified by our engineers.

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