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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Frederick County DRRA Amendment Moves Forward

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner

George Wenschhof

Democratic Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner’s amendment to Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreements (DRRAs) has moved forward with Councilmember Steve McKay (R-District 2) introducing it to the County Council on March 5, 2019.
McKay, who stressed the need to amend DRRAs in his campaign, said he was pleased to introduce the amendment that will cover several areas. First, it will change the minimum requirement to be considered to 1,500 homes. Second, it defines an enhanced public benefit to be included in agreement, which is above and beyond Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) requirements. It will also limit the length of agreements to five years with a five-year option and put limits on what is frozen.
The Maryland General Assembly in 1995 passed enabling legislation for DRRAs to address in part, late vesting of development projects, often defined as when foundations are built, the pendulum swings on how to manage growth resulting from changes in local elected officials and to provide some assurances to both developers and local government in zoning and regulations over the length of the development.  DRRAs are intended to be a benefit for local government and developers by providing benefits for each that would not be available without the agreement.  The state legislation does not limit the length of the agreement, restrict the number of homes or define a public enhancement that is above and beyond what is required by APFO review.
During the 2010-2014 board of county commissioners led by president Blaine Young(R), 13 DRRA’s were entered into, including one with 43 units that does not expire until 2034.  These agreements cover a total of 13,097 housing units, have an average length of twenty years and are the only approved DRRAs in Frederick County.
Gardner said, “I introduced this same bill during the term of the prior County Council. While the prior council debated it, they ultimately let the bill time out and made no decisions.
“I fully support my proposed legislation, which would require any future developer agreements to include an enhanced public benefit―like a school, regional road improvement, fire station―and prohibit the freezing of fees. The agreements should provide a benefit to existing residents and taxpayers.”
Gardner added, “I believe the five-year timeframe is appropriate because the county should reserve the right as it historically has done to review a development project if it does not proceed in a certain period of time because circumstances change including school overcrowding, road capacity, fire service needs and so forth.”
Gardner felt “DRRAs should be reserved for larger developments that will take longer to build and have the capacity to provide enhanced public benefits. Smaller developments do not have the financial capacity to make major infrastructure improvements and they can build out over a much shorter period of time.”
In regard to the number of units, she said “I am open to some flexibility in the 1,500-unit number, but these agreements should only be available to large projects for the reasons stated.”
Eric Soter, president of the Land Use Council of the Frederick County Building Industry Association and former Frederick County planning director, said, “The county already has the ability to accept or reject any DRRA right from the beginning as it is not a ‘by-right’ type of tool. So they are merely tying their own hands if the right project comes along.”
He noted, “There are no 1,500-unit developments on the horizon, there is not any ground right now that is planned in the County to accommodate that many units for one project. There is only one project with more than 1,500 units that is currently active and that is Lake Linganore.”
Frederick County Councilmembers Steve McKay (R-District 2), Phil Dacey (R-at-large), Kai Hagen (D-at-large), and Jerry Donald (D-District 1) all said they were willing to discuss the 1,500 minimum unit requirement. 
Furthermore, Soter said, “Even if there ever is a future project that would meet the criteria, the five-year timeframe doesn’t typically get you through the approval process. Perhaps some mass grading may begin, and some initial infrastructure, but with the State of Maryland being a ‘late-vesting’ state, there are no assurances that zoning could be removed for all or a portion of a community at any time without such a tool.” 
The public hearing of the proposed DRRA amendment will be April 2, 2019.