The following is my written testimony pertaining to Council Resolution 111-2017 (or CR111-2017), which would establish a property near the Laurel Racetrack as a special taxing district. This designation would facilitate the establishment of Tax Incremental Financing (or TIF) for the Laurel Park Station project planned for the property. Details regarding CR-111 can be found here. Should a TIF be put in place, Howard County would issue bonds between $40 and $60 million to pay for certain infrastructure improvements at the project site. I plan on presenting oral testimony to the Howard County Council during their Legislative Public Hearing of Monday, July 17, 2017:
Chairman Weinstein, Members of the County Council, good evening.
My name is Steve Hunt, and I live at 9630 Park Avenue, Laurel, Maryland. I’m here this evening to provide testimony pertaining to Council Resolution 111-2017, and while I serve as Chair of the Howard County Board of Appeals, I’m speaking this evening as an individual.
I use the words “pertaining to”, rather than “support of” or “opposition to”, because I don’t feel that there is sufficient information to make such a final determination. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed, and I’m hopeful that tonight will be the beginning of a much-needed dialog between the County, the developer and the affected communities in North Laurel, along with those along the Route 1 corridor. While I fully understand that the necessary zoning is in place for this project to proceed, no matter the final decision on this resolution, that fact that a TIF is being proposed opens the door for scrutiny, both by the Council as well as the affected communities.
My first – and greatest – concern is regarding the effect this project will have on traffic. Anybody that’s traveled Route 1, especially the stretch between the Howard/Prince George’s county line and Guilford Road, knows that it can get quite congested. This is especially true during the morning and evening commutes, as well as the weekends. I can only imagine the impact of upwards of an additional 1000 residential units, plus retail and office space, on Route 1. This could be especially problematic for commuters trying to enter the project from Route 1 southbound, or entering Route 1 southbound from the project, both of which will necessitate crossing Route 1 northbound. I would think that a comprehensive traffic study – including some form of a mitigation plan – would be in order before a decision of this financial magnitude would be made.
There’s also the issue of sidewalk improvements. A minor issue to some, yes, but many of us in the Southeast part of the County has long been frustrated with the fact that, once you cross the Prince George’s/Howard county line, sidewalks are either inconsistent or non-existent. Will some of the funds generated by the issuance of bonds be allocated to improve this situation, or will they only be used within boundaries of the site plan? Another question that deserves an answer.
There’s also the question of how this project will affect our schools, especially in light of the redistricting efforts under way. There are also other critical services such as police, fire and rescue, hospitals – with Howard County General already under increased pressure with the downsizing of Laurel Regional – and so forth.
I’ll close by saying this: I am not, in principle, opposed to TIF’s. I believe they are useful tools to spur development in those areas where additional incentives are needed. Certainly, the Route 1 corridor – especially the Southeast section – would meet that standard. However, use of a TIF should serve the interests of government, developer, and community – what some would call the “common good”. If CR111 will achieve this goal, I can support this measure. If, however, this is nothing more than a giveaway to a developer, not benefitting the common good, I would stand in opposition. I look forward to a continuation of this conversation, and will make myself as needed to be a part of these discussions. Thank you for your time.
As always, please feel free to contact me with your thoughts, concerns, etc. Thanks.