Howard Co. suing downtown Columbia developer for $106,161

Howard County government has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking $106,161 in damages against Howard Hughes Corp., the principal developer of downtown Columbia, after the developer allegedly failed to pay a county application fee. 

The suit, which was filed in Howard County Circuit Court in February and was moved to federal court last week, has been filed to allegedly recoup fees charged by the county to the developer for the request to establish a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, District, for the developer.  

Howard Hughes senior vice president John DeWolf declined to comment on the suit. County spokesman David Nitkin also declined comment.

A Jan. 29 memo sent on behalf of the developer by Mark Keener, an attorney at Gallagher, Evelius & Jones LLP, said no fees are due to the county because Howard Hughes never filed an application for a TIF.

The complaint states that the county did receive an application for a TIF from Howard Hughes on Oct. 10. A copy of the alleged application was not attached to the complaint. 

A TIF is a financing tool that allocates increased property tax revenue on newly developed property toward paying debt on county-issued bonds used to make public infrastructure improvements, like parking decks and roads, to the developed area.

The TIF district, which was to be set up for the area known as the crescent, was never set up. 

The suit was moved to U.S. District Court in Baltimore the same week that County Executive Ken Ulman proposed an amendment to the Downtown Columbia Plan, a mutually agreed upon master plan for downtown development, which would force Howard Hughes to turn over Merriweather Post Pavilion much sooner than planned.

If passed, Howard Hughes would have to abandon plans to redevelop the pavilion and would be forced to turn ownership of the venue to the nonprofit Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission almost immediately. 

DeWolf said the developer was “disappointed” by the announcement, and also questioned the motivation behind it. 

Ulman said the bill was filed because he was “frustrated” with the developer’s lack of progress on public improvements in downtown which, in addition to Merriweather, include building a multi-use pathway connecting east and west Columbia.

The bill, which would also place tighter restrictions on affordable housing, could hold up development in downtown by delaying the issuing of building permits for Howard Hughes’ next projects, which include the construction of a $125 million apartment complex in the Warfield neighborhood and plans to build an urban streetscape on the crescent south of the pavilion.

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