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$45 million technology business park would create new tax revenue

May 25, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Mount Aetna Farms land
Mount Aetna Farms land

It might take about $45 million to turn a large tract near Hagerstown into a technology business park, including the cost of building roads and utilities to support it, Washington County Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III said Friday.

But the payoff, over time, is expected to be large, Kroboth said.

Besides a business park generating local industry and high-paying jobs, he said the project would create new tax revenue — possibly covering the government investment within 10 years.

Kroboth provided a broad look at the proposed Mount Aetna Farms high-tech park on Friday, particularly the associated road plans and costs, at a meeting of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission Infrastructure Committee.

Terry Baker, the president of the Washington County Board of Commissioners and an ex officio member of the EDC, invited The Herald-Mail to cover the meeting to help share information about a group of projects of public interest.

Kroboth’s slide presentation had summaries of the cost and scope of road improvements planned for the area near Mount Aetna Farms, Meritus Medical Center and Hagerstown Community College.

They included:

  • $15.6 million to extend Professional Court and build a bridge across Antietam Creek
  • $9.3 million for work on Yale Drive
  • $5 million for work on Varsity Lane
Overall, the cost of arterial roads would be about $27.5 million out of the $45.1 million on Kroboth’s list of development costs.

The costs of land acquisition, water distribution, sanitary sewer and electrical distribution also were line items on the list.

Kroboth told the EDC committee that it would be difficult for any one developer to take on the entire project.

There’s about 349 acres of undeveloped land at or around Mount Aetna, but about 183 acres could be developed once roads, utilities and land for other purposes are excluded, he said.

An average of nearly $250,000 an acre for 183 acres would be “a heck of a lot of capital” for one developer, Kroboth said.

But “if government takes the first step” by investing in the infrastructure, the cost for development could drop to about $100,000 an acre, and government officials could shape how the area grows, he said.

Currently, the 183 acres generates about $240 an acre per year, but that would jump to $4,500 an acre per year under the planned development, an increase of nearly $800,000 a year, Kroboth’s report said.

A chart shows the county getting its investment back through tax revenue in about 10 years, if the buildout were 10 years.

Members of the EDC committee asked Kroboth numerous questions about the total plan, such as the exact path of the roads.

Committee members Ronald N. Bowers and Hagerstown City Councilman Martin C. Brubaker clashed over whether regional traffic should flow through the Mount Aetna Farms property.

Brubaker argued that there should be a more direct route to Meritus Medical Center.

Bowers said some people are involved in the discussions in more than one capacity, such as Gregory I. Snook, who is both vice chairman of the Hagerstown Community College board of trustees and president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, which purchased the Mount Aetna Farms land.

Snook, who attended the meeting, said the industrial foundation is excited about working on its fifth project in cooperation with the city and county.

HCC is looking forward to having a second entrance — besides the current one on Robinwood Drive — to ease traffic congestion, he said.

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