A planned commercial, residential and golfing development in Marriottsville could net the county more than $300 million over the next 30 years, a real estate analyst told the county Zoning Board last week.
The phased-in development of Waverly Woods II would cost the county $4.9 million annually (in current dollars) when built out, said Joseph M. Cronyn, senior associate of Legg Mason Realty Group Inc. in Baltimore. The plans include 937 homes, 1.7 million square feet of office space and an 18-hole public golf course.
Mr. Cronyn testified for four hours on the fourth night of hearings on the project's rezoning petition. Developer Donald R. Reuwer hopes to change land zoned for 3-acre residential lots to a mix of commercial and higher-density residential development.
Lawyers for the developer submitted a report done by the realty group that estimated that the project would generate an additional 316 students for county schools. At $4,800 per student, the project would cost the school system $1.5 million annually by the year 2025, the report says.
The report also estimates that other costs, such as road improvements, trash pickup and sewer and water hookups, will total up to $3.4 million annually by 2025.
On the other side of the balance sheet, the report predicts, the county will reap $401.3 million from property and income taxes, permits and fees, transfer and excise taxes and revenue from the golf course, which will be given to the county.
Opponents of the petition questioned the findings of Legg-Mason studies of the project in three hours of cross-examination Wednesday night. Unlike raucous previous nights, one of which was attended by 450 people, about 40 people attended.
Susan Gray, a county growth-control advocate, asked that reports by the realty group not be introduced as evidence supporting the petition. She argued that one report, done three years ago, was based on assumptions of a much healthier economy than now exists.
"There are certain observations here that are a little bit dated," conceded Cronyn, but he said the project could adjust to temporary economic downturns.
On questioning from one of the project's two attorneys, Leonard Goldstein, Mr. Cronyn said the project's development was much more flexible because the land was debt-free.
Developers of heavily mortgaged property are forced to develop it, hoping that there will be a market for the property, Mr. Cronyn said. Because the 682-acre site bordering Interstate 70 is owned free and clear, it can be developed according to demand for its homes, offices and shops, he said.
Jean Quattlebaum, president of Citizens Allied for Rational Expansion, asked Mr. Cronyn if he knew what the office vacancy rate was.
Mr. Cronyn replied that he is "intimately aware" of that rate, about 25 percent, because he does Legg-Mason's reports on office vacancy rates.
Despite the current depressed office market, Mr. Cronyn predicted that through the year 2010, Howard County would fill an average of about 200,000 square feet of office space a year. Today's vacancy rates can be misleading, he said, because some vacant office space would remain so in a good market.
"There are some buildings that, unfortunately, the day that they were built, were obsolete because of design defects," he said.
Mr. Cronyn was also asked if he knew of the possibility of the expansion of the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill, which adjoins the proposed project site.
"Nobody wants to live or work next to a landfill, that's a simple matter of aesthetics," he said. But he said the project's office/warehouse buildings would be built on the landfill side of Marriottsville Road, while homes and high-profile office buildings would be closer to the golf course on the east side of the road.
The hearing will continue at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Banneker Room of the George Howard county office building in Ellicott City. If the hearing is not completed that night, the next hearing will be sometime in September.