No decisions made on White Flint funding
Executive's office says sector plan is not top priority' in county
A cold response from the County Executive's office to two ideas for financing infrastructure needed to spur redevelopment in White Flint left the Planning Board asking on Thursday if the sector plan it's been toiling over will have the support from the county needed to succeed.
Diane Schwartz Jones, an assistant chief administrative officer to County Executive Isiah Leggett, told the Planning Board improvements in White Flint would have to be achieved through the traditional capital improvement project budget and existing financing tools, and refused to endorse financing the sector improvements on a timeline or with any certain mechanism.
"To say today that we are forfeiting our ability to make budget decisions makes no sense," Schwartz Jones said.
Jones said other county projects, such as the redevelopment of the struggling Wheaton downtown, are competing with White Flint.
"I'm not going to say it's a top priority," Schwartz Jones said of the sector plan. "We have a lot of priorities in the county."
The lack of enthusiasm was met with strong reaction by several members of the Planning Board, which is in the final stages of a more-than two year process of crafting a new long term redevelopment vision for the area surrounding the White Flint Metro. The board is attempting to stamp its approval on the final version of the plan by June so it can go to the next level, County Council approval, in July.
Commissioner Jean Cryor said she was taken aback by the "footdragging."
"I just wish I were hearing a stronger response from you. Without the money we all go home and have lunch, you know?" Cryor said. "If it's going to be half done we know it will never be done because halfway is worse than it is now."
Planning staffers estimate an up-to $95 million gap in the financing for roads and improvements necessary for the redevelopment of the area surrounding the White Flint Metro Station over the next 30 years. A new road network is needed to support the diversion of traffic from Rockville Pike when it is eventually converted into a boulevard, and Park and Planning has been discussing various means of filling that funding gap to spur the conditions in which development would occur in the sector.
Schwartz Jones told the Planning Board that the previously-floated idea of an autonomous authority proposed in a January staff draft to implement the sector plan was redundant and violated the Maryland Constitution. The authority would have had taxing, contractual and other powers generally held by the executive branch of government, and was favored by Chairman Royce Hanson and Vice Chairman John Robinson as most likely to be effective in getting the White Flint sector plan off the ground. However, planning staff abandoned recommendation of the authority Thursday following a series of five meetings at which the Executive's office made it clear the legal and political ramifications of it would be great.
Instead, staff proposed using Tax Increment Financing, a tool that skims the increase in tax revenue resulting from improvements in an area and uses them to pay off bonds issued for improvements in that area. Representatives of the County Executive opposed that idea, arguing it is an unreliable source of revenue and it isolates revenue from successful areas instead of spreading it through the county.
Schwartz Jones said the Executive's office is supportive of White Flint and has hired consultants to look into options for financing the sector plan infrastructure, such as development, special assessment or parking lot districts, but hadn't come to the work session ready to support any one idea.
"To say exactly what the funding mechanism is going to be right now…we're not prepared to say it's going to be this or it's going to be that."