More than 50 people came in support and opposition of the controversial James Run Corporate Campus development project during a public hearing before the Harford County Council's regular legislative meeting in Bel Air Tuesday evening.
Many of those attending wore white T-shirts expressing their support of the project, many of which were with Dixie Construction Company of Churchville, a major road and utilities contractor in Harford County. On the back of the T-shirts was stenciled: "New Jobs – Safer Roads – Taxpayer Friendly."
Close to 30 people voiced their opinions — in favor and against the mixed use office, retail and residential development — during the public hearing.
The county council did not vote Tuesday on the legislation for James Run's tax-increment financing, or TIF. Action by the council will be taken "sometime in the November legislative session," Council President Billy Boniface.
The legislation will allow the developers of James Run to sell up to $23 million in low interest bonds to build roads and other infrastructure associated with the development.
The low interest rate would be made possible by the county government fronting for borrowing. Property tax revenue generated by the finished development will be dedicated to paying off the bonds. If there is any shortfall in such revenue, which is expected to occur in the early stages, special taxes would be levied on the development.
The county government will not be liable for repaying the bonds, nor will its credit rating be impacted, county officials have stressed.
Owners of the project are listed as 95-543 LLC and Bren Mar 1 LLC. During the hearing, Peterson Companies was identified as developer of the project's retail component. JR Lodging was identified as developer of the lodging component.
"Spur" growth, official says
County Economic Development Director Jim Richardson gave a presentation on the impacts of the project to the county council, including the estimated number of jobs that project could bring in and approximately when the county would begin to see revenue coming in through property tax.
Richardson stressed the appeal of the 111-acre James Run property on Route 543 at I-95, about seven miles southeast of Bel Air, and called it "one of the best locations" left along the I-95 corridor between Washington D.C. and New York City.
The project would have 388 lodging house units, 325,000 square-feet of retail space and 540,000 square-feet of Class A office space, Richardson said; however, some of his figures were in conflict with fiscal impact note prepared by the county auditor and made part of the legislation the council will be considering. That report, citing "the most recently submitted development plan," states the project will have 636 "rooms," 300,000 square feet of retail and 540,000 square feet of office.
One of the controversial aspects in some of the public's mind has been the residential component, which has grown to 656,500 square feet, more than 40 percent of the total project, and has frequently been referred to by the developer's representatives as a "lodging house."
The extended stay lodging, Richardson said, is aimed toward housing military members and government employees on temporary assignments, as well as families in need of temporary housing and corporate business travelers.
Currently, the county receives $69,000 in property tax revenue every year from the property, a former golf course and private park, but if the development is built, tax revenue can go up to $4.9 million over the course of several years, according to Richardson's comments to the council.
According to the fiscal impact note, however, the project won't generate enough tax revenue to cover the annual bond repayment costs until the 2018-22 period, when the note estimates $9.5 million in taxes will be generated annually against $8.6 million in debt service costs, a net to the county of $880,000. After that period, the project is estimated to generate $5 million up to $13 million, as the debt is repaid, according to figures compiled by an outside consultant.
It is estimated that 2,730 full-time direct on-site and 1,428 indirect jobs off-site would be created as a result of the development.
In addition, an estimated 2,234 temporary jobs, mostly related to construction, also would be created.
From the TIF, the county would mainly see a positive impact to water and sewer services and improvements to roads that would be affected by the project.
"TIFs spur economic growth," Richardson said. "There's no question about that."