Harford council OKs fronting $14 million loan to developer

Beechtree project would use funds to build public infrastructure

March 17, 2010|By Jonathan Pitts | jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

The Harford County Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night in favor of legislation that will allow the county to front a $14 million loan to a real estate developer so the developer can complete a private residential project near Aberdeen.

Clark Turner Signature Homes of Havre de Grace will proceed with the 768-unit complex, Beechtree Acres, which had previously stalled for lack of private financing. The company will use funds from the loan to build public infrastructure for the site, including roads, sewer lines and streetlights.

It will be the first use in the county of TIF, or tax-increment financing, a financial arrangement by which local government uses the promise of increased tax revenue to facilitate private developments that have the potential to benefit the wider community.

Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, whose district includes Edgewood and Joppatowne, voted in favor of the bill because the project would create roads the county needs as the region braces for thousands of new residents expected to move there because of the military base realignment known as BRAC.

"The state and county governments haven't even started" building or widening roads to accommodate the expected increase in traffic toward Aberdeen Proving Ground, just two miles from the Beechtree site, he said. The project would get those accomplished "at no cost to the taxpayer — not one dime," he said.

The 250-seat council chamber was filled beyond capacity for the public hearing on the matter preceding the legislative session. More than 30 people spoke, about half for each side, extending the hearing 45 minutes beyond its expected closing time.

Guthrie said he came to the conclusion that those opposing the measure were largely dealing with "misinformation."

"We made sure the bill specifically says the people who buy the homes [in Beechtree] will pay a special tax" that will repay the bonds, he said.

"The county is incurring no risk. I see it as win-win."

Councilman Chad R. Shrodes, whose district includes Jarrettsville and Street, cast the lone vote against the bill.

The measure is supported by County Executive David R. Craig.

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