Deal could clear way for roads in Clarksburg

January 15, 2012

After years of acrimony and delay, a deal between Clarksburg developers and Montgomery County officials could lead to long-awaited road improvements in exchange for $15 million of county funding, according to county officials.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) is expected to pledge the funds Tuesday when he releases his proposal for the county’s latest six-year capital spending plan. In exchange, Leggett said he expects the developers to complete three roads in Clarksburg Village and Arora Hills within two years.

The agreement, which has not been finalized and which does not address the future of Clarksburg Town Center, has been in the works for months, officials said. The county wanted to head off a plan by Clarksburg developers to charge the homeowners for road construction, a move that would have prompted a lawsuit by residents.

Another round of legal wrangling would have further delayed completion of Clarksburg, a planned community in northern Montgomery that remains unfinished years after ground was broken and is a point of embarrassment for county officials.

“It’s going on and on, back and forth, court fight after court fight,” Leggett said Friday. “I have determined to try to end this. Developers have been refusing to build these roads. Citizens are worried that they would have to pay these fees. . . . Without the [roads], the development couldn’t go forward.”

County officials said the $15 million would come from government bonds and that the developers would only be paid after the road projects are completed. In his capital spending proposal, Leggett is expected say that the county will start paying the $15 million in fiscal year 2015, after he is expected to leave office.

David Flanagan, president of Elm Street Development, said he expects the deal to be completed within two to three weeks. The capital spending plan ultimately must be approved by the Montgomery County Council.

The deal does not address development projects that remain incomplete in the Clarksburg Town Center, which was envisioned to be a model suburb but whose construction has not been completed since ground was broken more than a decade ago.

Discussions about the deal began in earnest last year, after council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) introduced two development bills related to the Clarksburg area.

One would have Clarksburg Village and Arora Hills residents pay special taxes for infrastructural projects in their neighborhoods. (The developers had said they would not impose the fees if the special taxes were in place.) That has seen no movement since July.

The other bill would, among other items, provide tax credits to developers who work on improving certain roads in Clarksburg that they must already improve. That legislation made the Leggett administration nervous, said Ramona Bell-Pearson, an assistant chief administrative officer for the county executive. So Leggett’s office asked the council to hold off on the bill until they tried negotiating with the two developers.

The developers originally sought $25 million in tax credits to build the roads, according to council staff. Instead, they agreed to the $15 million payment and up to $2 million in potential tax credits for the construction of a bike trail in the area. In addition, much of Floreen’s second bill will be taken out.

Council members had mixed opinions about the deal. “I always thought the [roads] are the developers’ obligation and should never be paid by Clarksburg,” said council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large). “But I don’t think they should be paid by us either.”

Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), who is skeptical of the deal, said he has agreed to the Clarksburg development only on the provision that it be paid by those residents. “The county executive’s proposal takes residents of [Clarksburg] off the hook but puts every other taxpayer in the county on the hook,” he said.

But Floreen said the shift is “not unfair.” “That’s how Montgomery county has classically operated,” she added.

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