Untying the County's Hands
Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreements (DRRA's) are created between a developer and the local government, to spell out a deal that is made with benefits on both sides. Typically, the developer receives some sort of zoning benefit, usually a freeze of the current zoning regulations into the future, to cover their long-term project. They are given this in return for benefits to the community that will be had over existing requirements, by the development.
There is very little restriction in our County Code regarding DRRA's and the entire reference to them in our code is procedural. Very recently, Frederick County passed new legislation adding restrictions to DRRA's due to them having started to go way beyond the intent and be used to give too much to developers.
Recently, Howard County entered into a DRRA to acquire land for the Mission Road school site. Many believe the DRRA was entirely too one-sided in its benefits to the developer, especially when there isn't even a developer in this agreement yet, just reaching far into the future with the current property owner’s future possible plans for OTHER property. It felt like blackmail to get a school site, so badly needed, and frankly, it set a precedent for other developers to point at and insist on this ridiculously favorable treatment to the county's detriment.
Luckily, some Council Members, have expressed concerns regarding the precedent issue. We are hopeful that those concerns will be addressed by restricting DRRA's in our code. The areas Frederick County addressed, which I feel should also be addressed by Howard are:
- Limiting DRRA's to projects of at least 900 units (as larger projects have the capacity to actually provide a benefit that truly assists the larger community as required, and not just the development's community).
- Requiring enhanced public benefits to the County, specifically above and beyond those that normally can accrue.
- Requiring those benefits be delivered before the contract expires via land transfer or financial guarantees.
- Narrowing the scope of laws and regulations that can be frozen under a DRRA to only include uses and intensities specifically of the actual project, planned and noted in detail.
- Having a far shorter period of time of freezing of regulations or laws, five years, with ability to go to ten.
-Allowing the ability of citizens to appeal a DRRA to the Board of Appeals.
- Disallowing the benefits to a developer's project to continue by the County, if bankruptcy court relieves them of any responsibilities they were providing to the County, in the DRRA.
Thank you to Council Chair Christiana Mercer Rigby for requesting public input into this process. These are the issues I have discussed with those who have asked.