As those in touch with me know, I am recovering from a nasty injury – a ruptured Achilles tendon – a very long and tedious road ahead. This occurred in late June, and I am still on crutches. I had the idiocy of feeling a little sorry for myself, then, like many life lessons, I realized how fortunate I am. What a summer this has been for our amazing and uniquely attentive community.
The flooding of the historic district of Ellicott City, a truly tragic occurrence in every sense of the word, has also shown the wonderful spirt and cooperation of our citizens, pulling together, sharing resources, contacts, and talents to help those who suffered loss. I am so blessed that my daughter Anna, who was floating down the road in a car by the Patapsco River, was able to get to safety as others ahead of her were not so lucky. I know so many people whose lives were forever altered that night. I am so frustrated to be on crutches and participating a bit less physically in the recovery, but I am working on projects that I can coordinate otherwise, helping folks with lease and tax advice, and requesting venues to sponsor pop-up sales, and talking to tech experts about helping with an Ecommerce site. Everyone is doing what they can where they can.
I deeply hope we rebuild, and that it looks as charming and unique as it did with eclectic shops, and not just chain restaurants and stores. Of course, this is going to require a LOT of expertise and money to do it right. I am hopeful that the current Administration will look seriously at what storm water management requirement changes there should be in areas that affect downtown EC, as mitigating to a 100 year storm is NOT good enough, obviously. That label is a misnomer, as they are happening more like every 5 years. I know this one was more like what they are calling 500-year or 1000-year, but dare I predict that will not be the real number either, so massive improvement to remediation is needed in the rebuild. That is going to take so much time that my heart breaks for those folks who cannot return, who cannot afford the lost business for so long.
In the meantime, it seems we should be taking a closer look at the Downtown Columbia plan, next to its own flooding possibilities, and see what storm water management requirements are happening there. We should realize that the County budget, even with Federal and State assistance, will likely take hits going forward to help EC rebuild. This is likely not the time to be giving away increased tax revenues from Columbia development. You see, Howard Hughes (HH) is getting a deal with this project and TIF, in that they are paying less than one would normally require of developers given the expense of the road improvements and other infrastructure needs that will be required given this voluminous undertaking. Like many others, I do not understand why HH cannot afford the infrastructure improvements they are causing to be needed. Yes, the project is huge, but isn’t the profit also larger than “normal”? But, there’s a profit cap deal in there you say. Well, guess what? That only applies if they SELL. HH has no intention currently of selling. This is a rental income plan, not a sales plan.
HH is quick to show all the “profit” the County is going to receive from this project, in increased income taxes (assuming all new residents are new to the County), and increased property taxes, jobs, etc. The tax-increment of these new taxes is set to fund the infrastructure improvements there, but the developer needs to be paying a higher share of those costs, and let the increased tax funds go to the County’s general budget for all its needs. Are we going to use the “profit” to the County as a measure of developer’s charges now? That’s a bad precedent. If so, they need to reveal their own profit too.
HH is not doing a favor to the County here. It is a profitable enterprise for HH, and profits to the County shouldn’t be offset to increase the developer’s. I am all for private property rights, but that’s not the case here, financially. HH is desirous of changing existing regulations, moving up the APFO line, altering their fees and affordable housing requirements, increasing density, decreasing parking, etc. etc. With the County facing increased flood remediation costs, and maintaining an excellent school system with ever-increasing enrollment, and other services needed to accommodate density, this is no time to be pledging tax revenues to costs that HH should be absorbing more.
I was invited to attend one of HH’s small group sessions and I learned a lot there. I learned that there are aspects of the affordable housing plans on County property with which HH has involvement, and thus, the real percentage of what they are providing isn’t 5-6% (from their own expense) but likely a few percentage points higher. But it is certainly NOT the 14% HH is claiming. I learned that there are positive aspects of this development for the community, public amenities, walkability aspects, etc. I am not against the project; however, I retain my belief that HH should be paying more and the County less when it comes to the TIF agreement and infrastructure costs.
Lastly, the Howard County Public School System leadership continues to disappoint. Remember when Allan Kittleman fully funded certain areas of their budget including Instruction? Well, they are cutting instruction anyway, and letting teachers know they won’t be reimbursed for the cut classroom supplies if they buy them themselves. They also cut out a monthly public hearing of the Board of Education. Please remember to vote for new Board members in November, as these actions are #notsosuper. (Thanks Barb Krupiarz).