A few days ago, I attended a meeting with representatives from the developers of Laurel Park Station. As summarized here, this proposal would bring “1,000 residential units – a mix of apartments, condominiums and townhouses – as well as 127,000 square feet of retail space and 650,000 square feet of office space to a 65-acre plot of land in North Laurel.” According to the developer, over the next 10 years, the project will cost $400 million.
The proposal revolves around the terminology “transit oriented development (TOD).” A few years ago, the region was rezoned to TOD zoning, attempting to create facilities that makes commuting easier for residents and reducing traffic congestion. Because this is a TOD, there are special requirements. Namely, the County would need to cough up money for the improvement of the “transit-related” activities. In this case, the construction of a train-stop and two parking garages will be financed using tax increment financing (TIF).
In order to lay the groundwork for a TIF, the County Council is considering CR111-2017 to designate the 64-acre property as a special taxing district. The TIF would result anywhere from $40 to $60 million in taxpayer funding to support these facilities.
The developer’s representatives went over the plans and explained how the proposal would be beneficial to the region. They explained how the developer went above and beyond to obtain necessary permits and address environmental concerns. It is clear to me that there are several additional concerns that have not been addressed. Specifically, I raised concerns regarding the roads, as well as the impact the development will have on schools. Other concerns raised by participants include the safety for pedestrians and the preservation of the historic nature of the area including Laurel Race Track.
The Roads: Anyone who has driven on Route 1 on a weekday afternoon or certain weekend mornings know firsthand how undeniably bad traffic congestion gets. Yet, a single project aims to bring in 1000 more residential units; in addition to other development that would undoubtedly exacerbate this issue. The road is already subject to very low standards and grades.
In this respect, the developer claims that they are willing to do whatever it takes to alleviate traffic woes, so it would be unfair to ask him to do all the work for a facility that others should be contributing into as well. While I agree that it would be unfair, I'm just not sure they are doing what's required of them as the stewards of this area, where they plan to sell 1000 residential units.
Furthermore, if this problem is intractable, then why are we planning on adding fuel to the fire by bringing in more traffic?
The Schools: In Howard County, there are 12 elementary schools relying on Title 1 funding. Fifty percent – 6 out of the 12 schools are located in District 3. By the Board of Education standards, elementary school capacity is set at 788 students. Elementary School #42 will cost about $44 million for 788 seats.
The cost of an elementary school is $56k and that doesn't even include annual operation costs. Each household in Howard County contributes approximately 0.45 kids to the public school system. By this estimate, the 1000 units will contribute about 450 kids, which is more than half the capacity of a standard elementary school. The initial cost to accommodate these new students before the annual operating costs is at a minimum $25 million.
Yes, some of these kids will be in middle or high schools. Using the per-student cost for middle or high schools would only increase the above estimate so this is decidedly the low end of the cost. Again, the developer’s position is that they have the approvals for the project and follow the existing rules in place. Even though the contribution to capacity of this development is taken into account within the current open/close chart estimates, we are still dealing with schools that are over capacity. I am not convinced that they are taking all the necessary steps to mitigate the consequence of this new development on the quality of our schools.
I share the concerns with many residents on this project. This project will create more problems than it will solve. What is the justification for the train stop anyways? If there is such a dire need for it, could we not build the train stop without introducing 1000 more units to a community?
The TOD seems more like a Trojan horse to bring in more development than to alleviate transportation problems. It boggles the mind to say “we need a TOD because we want to make transit easier, but to do that, we will add more residential units that will contribute to additional congestion.”
If there is a demand for this infrastructure, then we don’t need to rely on developers to bring it to fruition. The argument that a TOD and the consequent development will bring in more tax dollars and improve quality of life is counterfactual.
Fast-paced development constrains resources and leads to poor quality of life; unless the attendant costs are mitigated. I do not support CR111-2017 and the TIF.