Tax waivers, low cost financing sought for Harford development

A developer planning a mixed-use office, retail and residential project near the junction of I-95 and Route 543 in the Creswell – Riverside area is asking the Harford County Council to approve a special taxing district and tax exempt financing for the project.

The council introduced legislation Tuesday that would give a TIF, or tax-increment financing program, for the James Run project, to be developed on 111 acres off Route 543.

Under such a deal, the developer, 95-543 LLC and Bren Mar 1 LLC, would have access to cut-rate financing and the county will dedicate the future county real estate taxes due on the property toward repaying the bonds used to finance the development's roads and utilities and other infrastructure.

James Run could feature 1.5 million square feet of development, including 1.1 million square feet of office space, 254,000 of retail and 120,000 square feet for a 215-room lodging house. The site includes the former Bren Mar Park golf course and recreation area.

The bill would allow the county to issue up to $23 million of special obligation bonds at a maximum interest rate of 9 percent annually to finance or reimburse the project.

The county would levy a special tax each year to provide funds to pay the debt service on the bonds.

The project would include road improvements at Routes 543 and 136, Route 7 and Abingdon Road, Routes 7 and 543, the off-ramp from Route 543 to I-95 and Route 7 and Stepney Road.

A similar TIF deal for the Beechtree Estates housing development on a former golf course near Aberdeen that the county approved a few years ago drew some public opposition.

Similar protests are expected over the James Run TIF, but nothing of the sort was evident at Tuesday's meeting.

Council Vice President Dick Slutzky, who was chairing the meeting in place of the absent Council President Billy Boniface, said no discussion would be held on the introduced bills.

He noted the public hearing on the TIF legislation will take place on Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. in the council chamber.

"According to procedure, we have discussion only after hearings have been held," Slutzky said.

Also at the meeting, the council introduced a bill to acquire development rights for about 157 acres of agricultural land at 2110 White House Road from the Gambill family for a maximum purchase price of $905,269.95.

Several other bond bills were introduced, including $2.6 million for pump station replacements and sewer relief in the Joppa area and $36 million for various projects, including the Humane Society of Harford County, HMAN (the county's Metro Area Network), the new emergency operations center complex, the nursing and allied health building, water and wastewater, a solid waste transfer station, athletic field improvements and development at the county's Churchville complex.

Appropriations for Havre de Grace High School field facilities and a capital projects transfer for the board of education were also introduced as legislation.

Recent tragedies

Council members also recalled the string of recent deaths of Harford law enforcement officials - two sheriff's deputies, an Aberdeen police officer and a former sheriff - and Board of Education president Leonard Wheeler.

"This has been a very sad series of events in Harford County," Slutzky said, mentioning the time he spent with Dr. Wheeler, who ran against Slutzky for the District E council seat in 2006.

"I got to know Dr. Wheeler in the 2006 election. He actually ran in opposition to me in that election," Slutzky said. "We found out that we had probably a great deal more in common than people might have believed."

Slutzky said Dr. Wheeler was "under a lot of stress" at the most recent board of education meeting Sept. 10, just a day before he died.

"By any definition, Dr. Wheeler was a gentleman. He was a distinguished educator. He never had a bad thing to say about anyone, to my knowledge," Slutzky said. "I will personally miss him and my condolences and sympathies to his family."

Councilman Chad Shrodes said he will especially remember Dr. Wheeler's tone of speaking, calling it "almost like poetry."

He and Councilman Jim McMahan also recalled the death Tuesday of Deputed Testamony, the Boniface family's horse who won the 1983 Preakness and was the oldest living winner of Triple Crown race.

"DT was much more than a horse; he was the farm," Shrodes said. "His legacy will always live on and be part of the Boniface family, for sure."

"That horse spent its whole life in Harford County. It's not one of these that was bred somewhere and brought in," Shrodes pointed out.

Also at the meeting, Dorothy Blevins Higinbotham and Daniel O'Neill were recognized as Harford Living Treasures.

Several residents also spoke again about the proposed Walmart at Plumtree Drive, which was not on the agenda but residents said they are still hoping the council can do something to stop it.

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