Panel also okays satellite simulcast betting, discusses school mitigation fee increase.
Frederick, Md (KM) The application from the City of Frederick to establish an enterprise zone along the Golden Mile was approved Tuesday night by the County Council. Heather Graham, Assistant Director of the County’s Office of Economic Development, says business along West Patrick Street from Route 15 to Old Camp Road will be eligible to apply for real property and income tax credits for making investments in their facilities and hiring new employees.
“One of the differences to note with this program as compared to some of our other property tax credits that we offer here is that the state does provide a reimbursement to local jurisdictions to help offset that cost,” says the Graham. Both the city and the county would get a 50% reimbursement of tax revenues if the application is approved.
The application for the enterprise zone was approved on April 5th by the Frederick Board of Aldermen. Now that the County has come on board, the application will head to the Maryland Department of Commerce which will have the final say. “It gives relief to people who want to improve their property that they’re not getting an extra tax on top of what they’re improving. It gives them an incentive to do it in a depressed area,” says Councilman Jerry Donald.
In 2016, the City of Brunswick was given approval for an enterprise zone. Councilman Donald, whose district includes Brunswick, says this program takes time to set up. “It’s a rather complex process for people. If you’re going to do this on the Golden Mile, you need to know it’s going to take a little bit of work. But they did get it going. I believe the brewery down there was able to get it. You can do it, but it’s not an automatic thing. And it’s just on the improvements to the building, not what you already have,” he says.
The brewery is Smoketown Brewery located at 223 West Potomac Street in Brunswick. It formally opened on April 30th, 2016.
The Council heard support for Frederick’s request for an enterprise zone for the Golden Mile. One came from Melanie Day, whose with the Property Management Team of the Willow Tree Plaza at West Patrick Street and Willowdale Drive. She says seven of the tenants there are immigrants who a struggling to build a business and make a profit. “The enterprise program will help them greatly, enormously,” she said. “It will enable them, encourage them to hire more employees so they can actually expand their businesses, make a small profit and bring more people to the community.”
Justin Kiska, the owner of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theater, had good things to say about it. “This adds one more weapon in the fight to revitalize the west side of the city,” he says. “Now, a high tide will float all boats so a strong and vibrant Golden Mile is good for the whole county.”
The Council also approved an ordinance to allow satellite simulcast betting facilities in Frederick County. They would be a permitted use in light industrial, general industrial and general commercial zones. They would undergo site plan approval by the county.
These centers are usually located in restaurants and other establishments, and provide an additional amenity to patrons. They will be able to place wagers on horse races which are broadcast over television screens.
The sponsor of the bill, Councilman Tony Chmelik, says this ordinance clarifies the county’s local ordinance. “I’m just happy to move it forward as a clarification, as an opportunity for a business which has already been in the town to hope to be able to come back without having to wonder whether it’s right or wrong,” he said.
A satellite simulcast betting facility was located at the Cracked Claw in Urbana until it closed in 2011.
Council Vice President MC Keegan-Ayer voted against the bill. She said nothing against the legislation, but didn’t want to see gambling expanded in the county. “My family is from St. Mary’s County. I saw what happened in St. Mary’s County when they allowed slot machines in restaurants. I know it’s not the same thing. But it’s just a personal issue that I have with it.”
Chmelik also says an operation like this will not pave the way for slot machines to come to the county. “I personally will never vote for slot machines to be put in the county,” he said. :”I absolutely understand that.. It’s a different mentality, I think, in terms of horsing and what this does for the industry in general across the state.”
In addition to the county approvals, Chmelik says the state needs to weigh in before these centers can open for business. “Any facility that applies will also have to go through another complete public hearing process. Local folks will be notified. This process will be repeated so folks can speak their concerns once they pick a location, and then that particular discussion can had amongst the public.”
There was plenty of testimony Tuesday on a proposal to increase the school mitigation fee on developers. A proposal before the Council would boost those fees by 52% to 76%
Mitigation fees were approved by the last Board of County Commissioners to assist builders whose residential projects failed the Adequate Public Facilities Ordnance schools test. Because of that, they couldn’t continue with their projects, but had to wait until there was enough classroom space to accommodate the increasing number of students. The builders could pay a mitigation fee which would go toward school construction, and then resume building new homes.
Shirley McDonald with the League of Women Voters urged the Council to approve the increase in mitigation fees. “The increase in school construction fees proposed by the County Executive will apply only to these selected developments . all of which are in areas where school enrollment is at or over capacity,” she said. “The school construction fees have not been increased since 2014, and are completely insufficient based on current state of Maryland school construction figures.”
The school mitigation fees are only imposed on developers of the Landsdale, Jefferson Tech Park, Urbana North MXD, Westview South, Ballenger Run, Oakdale Village, Jefferson Park West, Ramksbrug, Casey PUD, Tallyn Ridge, Rayburn, Boxwood (VoU), Overlook at Long Branch (Shapiro) and Eaglehead/ Lake Linganore. No other developments are paying these fees. No other developments are required to pay school mitigation fees because the law setting them up has expired. The 12 projects listed previously are required to pay the fees under Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreements or other agreements.
Representatives from the building industry also spoke at the hearing Tuesday. One was Tracy Claybaugh with the Land Use Council. “Bill number 1813 will increase the mitigation fees for new homes between 56% and 74% depending on the type of dwelling unit and school level,” she says. “Frederick County already requires the payment of more than $34,000 of fees for new homes, and this fee may increase that fee well over $50,000.”
Builder Mark Lancaster said this proposed increase could affect the construction industry, and beyond. “We also understand that massive, across the board fee increases affects the sale price for homes, making them unattainable for buyers. This leaves to less jobs building homes, which has a ripple affect on the local economy,” he says.
Lancaster called for setting up a task force so all stakeholders in the community can come up with a solution to relieve overcrowded schools.. He asked that the politics be stripped away, and the participants find common solutions.
Steve McKay of Monrovia says the current fee structure can’t pay for school construction to accommodate the increasing student population. “Every new home paying out-of-date fees put us further and further behind in paying for new schools,” he said. “Either update the fees, or stop the building in those overcrowded school districts. That’s your choice. It’s just that simple.”
Following the hearing, Council President Bud Otis noted that the builders also want good schools like everyone else in the community, and we all need to find common ground.
By Kevin McManus