DRRA’s – Developer’s Rights and Responsibilities Agreements
What are these? They are agreements between government bodies and developers. They exist because sometimes large developments are providing community amenities for which the government is willing to guarantee more predictability of profitability for a project, in order to get the large benefit provided. Sounds reasonable, but problems arise when DRRA’s freeze our zoning laws and regulations for decades at a time, and not even just on a project’s actual issues of development, like their number of units allowed, or setbacks, heights and other specific requirements, but also include things like not having to abide by general ordinances like Adequate Public Facilities safeguards, or urgent changes sometimes done like moratoriums, or just changing planning needs over such a long time.
In Frederick County, a Bill is being proposed to restrict DRRA’s. It would limit them to projects of development over 1500 units, as those are best able to provide serious community benefits, maximize their timeframe to five years with an option for five more, and only allow freezing of regulations regarding their specific parcel. We should take note of these good ideas.
Our current legislation, Council Resolution 49-2019, has to do with a DRRA that has some problems. The subject of it is the sales agreement for land for a new high school on Mission Road. We all want to see new schools built as soon as possible, but this DRRA doesn’t seem like it is really a DRRA. I have concerns about it, yes, I seriously do not want any significant delay in building the high school.
The DRRA has no development discussed in it, so where is the D? It sort of sets an extremely long-term plan for whatever possible “D”evelopment could possibly be considered, maybe, someday. How about Responsibilities? The non-developer’s responsibilities are basically to sell land to the County to use for a school. Sounds like that’s a sales agreement. Is the price right? Is it such a great deal to the County that the County really needs to sweeten the pot and provide big development benefits for 25 years, if as and when the quarry that is operating near the proposed school site, is done, and then they will be developing? Since they will be overcrowding that school big time when that happens, and likely adding many hundreds of units, freezing all zoning laws and regulations at 2019 is inappropriate.
If the concern in selling land for a school, is that they don’t give away their right to continue to run their quarry, then why not just have only those regulations frozen? Why add in all zoning, land use regulations and laws? Because when they are done with the quarry and want to develop, they can skip the APFO waits, pay 2019 fees, never have any possibility of lower setbacks, more storm water management requirements, more environmental regulation, or any less residential unit allowance total. Do we really need to do all those favors, to get this land for the school? The agreement even allows the petitioners to decide which laws and regulations can apply to them that are changed. Thus, if a law or regulation changes that actually benefits them, that one can apply, but not ones they don’t like. That’s a bit much.
I don’t understand why this legislation is being labeled as moving forward high school provision. It doesn't need to be in this form to stay on track. Buying the land and getting the school started is completely able to be done, without significant delay, without having to give away so much down the road.
Again, I totally see where we need to safeguard profitability when a large community benefit is being provided in a large development; however, in this case, paying them a fair price for their land, and allowing them to continue their current business dealings (if continuing to be safe, which is noted), should be enough. We don’t have to give away such huge future development goodies, decades away. That’s bad for planning, wrong for our future officials, and a terrible precedent for what should go into DRRA’s. This is a non-Developer, non-Responsibilities, all their Rights Agreement. The scale needs righting here. I am seeing public statements that the petitioner is willing to amend this agreement if needed. I hope that is true, and we can address these concerns, and keep the high school plan on track.