White Flint plan proposes new strategy for funding infrastructure
County executive's office opposes creation of implementation authority'
The county executive and Park and Planning disagree about the proposed implementation of a special authority to oversee the development of the White Flint Sector Plan, a planning strategy that is unprecedented in Montgomery.
The White Flint Implementation Authority, which is proposed in the current draft of the sector plan, would facilitate the redevelopment of White Flint's infrastructure partly by gathering money from businesses that stand to benefit from the improvements, and would require new legislation on both the county and state levels to exist. According to the draft, it would be accountable to the County Council in annual audits, but have a function "similar to a municipality."
Testifying on behalf of County Executive Isiah Leggett at the public hearing on the sector plan draft Jan. 12, Diane Schwartz Jones called the authority "unnecessary, redundant, expensive and [lacking] electoral accountability." The authority, which among its powers could collect and distribute taxes, condemn buildings and enter into contracts for capital improvement projects, is seen as an overlap of the powers bestowed upon the executive branch, said Schwartz Jones, an assistant chief administrative officer for Leggett.
County Planning Director Rollin Stanley said such an authority may be unprecedented here, but is commonly used in other areas, including St. Louis and Chicago. He said the authority would basically be a broader combination of tools already available in the county that gather revenue for infrastructure improvement and maintenance, such as parking districts or special business districts, which raise and dedicate funds to the general improvement of an area. The authority is necessary to effectively sync public and private development, Stanley said.
"What we're looking at is, how do we set up a mechanism where the public sector and the private sector can work together?" Stanley said. "There's no point in implementing a master plan you can't follow through with."
Stanley said the new approach is necessary because, unlike past urban plans in the county, White Flint requires redeveloping infrastructure already in place, such as Rockville Pike and the White Flint Metro Station. He said past sector plans have been created around areas that did not already have pre-existing infrastructure.
Nkosi Yearwood, a county planner working on White Flint, said the advantage to the authority is that it combines the existing tools "under one umbrella."
But Schwartz Jones said because tools like parking and business districts already exist, the notion of creating an authority is unnecessary.
"The county executive has always agreed that there should be a staging of development so the private development doesn't go ahead of the infrastructure to support it," Schwartz Jones said. "You don't need a redevelopment authority to fund the improvements, what you need is a mechanism to fund the improvements. We have very good tools in place already."
Schwartz Jones questioned the legal ramifications of the authority gathering and distributing taxes, saying that was the role of the county financial director and the County Council.
"[The White Flint Redevelopment Implementation Authority] is not an elected body," Schwartz Jones said. "We are concerned about the lack of accountability of a new authority to the public."
Dave Freishtat, a development attorney representing the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce as an alternate on the White Flint Sector Plan Steering Committee, said the authority would be accountable, because the County Council would have to sign off on everything it did.
The steering committee, a 15-member group representing businesses and residents in the area, has not necessarily endorsed the authority, but has a strong consensus that some kind of mechanism for funding needs to be established.
Freishtat said to get bond money for the White Flint Sector Plan, a dedicated funding source is a must.
"Let's face it, there is no money to develop infrastructure in White Flint from the feds, from the state, from the county," Freishtat said. He said he thinks the executive is angling for a greater oversight of the funds, something the BCC would oppose.
"You need to have a dedicated private funding source that nobody can put their hands on."