Council set to revise development slate for lull of recession

March 01, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,

The County Council is poised to approve a recession-driven bill tomorrow night that would give landowners and developers more ability to delay their projects and county officials more accurate information for planning schools and infrastructure.

The bill, sponsored by council members Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, and Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, would allow larger projects now being processed to be rescheduled and stretched out over a longer period of time than currently allowed, without losing time-limited county approvals. The extra re-phasing period would be temporary, ending June 30, 2010.

"Essentially, we're trying to allow some flexibility for landowners who are ready to move forward except that the housing market has fallen off a cliff," Watson told other council members at a work session last week. "It allows them to push [units] out into the future."

For a property developer who is suddenly without a buyer, the bill could mean avoiding major expenses that would come with recording building lots. Once a lot is ready for the legal step of recordation, which makes it ready for development, planner Jeff Bronow explained, a property owner must pay professional and filing fees, and much higher county property taxes.

When plans are formally approved by the county, developers have a limited amount of time to obtain and use building permits or lose those approvals, so they may build a portion of homes to protect those approvals, but then let them sit unfinished until the market improves.

Currently, developers may change the phasing schedule for their projects once in four years, according to planning officials, but many are hesitant to take that step in this economy because they know they have only one opportunity. Instead, they've been asking the county for six-month extensions.

Bronow said the county can lose track of how many new homes are being built because the government doesn't track extensions, so the bill would also help in planning for needed infrastructure and amenities.

"We could be funding capital projects before we need them," Watson said.

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