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Tax breaks approved for low-income housing projects in Abingdon, Edgewood

A tax property tax break was approved by the Harford County Council Tuesday for the Windsor Valley affordable housing community in Edgewood that is due to get a makeover under its new owner.
A tax property tax break was approved by the Harford County Council Tuesday for the Windsor Valley affordable housing community in Edgewood that is due to get a makeover under its new owner. (BRIAN KRISTA | AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Harford County Council approved tax breaks Tuesday night for two low- to moderate-income housing developments, Riverwoods in Abingdon and a renovated Windsor Valley in Edgewood.

Council members agreed to let developers of both projects make payments to Harford County in lieu of paying property taxes, which will result in somewhat lower revenue to the county.

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The trade-off, according to council members and other county officials, is affordable housing that is needed in the county and, in the case of Windsor Valley, needed improvements that are expected to enhance public safety in a high crime area of the county.

The council praised the Windsor Valley rehabilitation and unanimously approved its PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) agreement on the same night as the public hearing for the project, an unusual move for Council President Billy Boniface.

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Boniface and Councilman Joe Woods voted against a PILOT for the Riverwoods project, which is set to put 84 apartments between Abingdon's Walmart and Target, off of Constant Friendship Boulevard.

The Riverwoods PILOT would cost the county about $23,000 annually in potential revenue for 10 years, according to the county auditor's office.

Riverwoods' owners would pay $440 per housing unit each year, with a 3 percent annual escalation, for 10 years.

Woods said after the council meeting he talked to business owners in the area who were "not thrilled" about the project, as they wanted to see more businesses instead.

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He also said traffic is a big issue in the Constant Friendship area, a concern Boniface brought up as well during a hearing on the Riverwoods PILOT on Oct. 7.

"I just don't think it's being planned properly right now," Woods said of Riverwoods.

Woods nevertheless supported the Windsor Valley project, a $15.9 million redevelopment to 291 units in the rental townhouse complex, which is more than 40 years old.

Windsor Valley's owners will pay $250 per housing unit annually, with a 3 percent annual escalation, for 40 years.

The cost of the Windsor Valley PILOT to the county remains nebulous, largely because it is unknown how the redevelopment may affect the property's future assessments, according to the county auditor.

Nevertheless, the fiscal impact note estimated the county could get about $18,786 less under the PILOT deal, in the first five years of the agreement.

"I have to support it. I think the benefits not only to the community but to the county as a whole are going to be overwhelming, whereas I felt differently about the other PILOT," Woods said.

Councilman Dion Guthrie, who represents the Edgewood area, agreed, calling the developer's plan to invest about $52,000 per unit "very impressive."

"We're sure looking forward to the end product," he said.

County officials, including the Harford County Sheriff's Office, have noted it would improve security.

Col. Edward Hopkins, chief deputy of the Sheriff's Office, told the council the Sheriff's Office has let off-duty deputies do private security for Windsor Valley, the first such arrangement for a development in the county.

He noted Windsor Valley pays for that service and the deputies work after hours.

"Our gang problem has been reduced to almost zero," Hopkins said, although he added the gangs have moved on to other areas.

"They know they're not welcome there [at Windsor Valley] and they're staying away," he said.

Meaghan Alegi, senior assistant county attorney, said the property's current condition is "not good" and it has a lot of vacant units.

"I think we all know the Sheriff's Office has had a lot of calls to that area," she said. "It's in desperate need of rehab but there are existing units there, in poor condition."

Community development coordinator Tiffany Robinson said, Wishrock Group based in Maine, has a very good track record and five properties in Maryland.

Wishrock acquired part of the community this summer and is in the process of buying the remainder with the aid of $16.5 million in short-term, tax-exempt state bonds, a Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development spokesperson said last month.

"This isn't the first 40-year PILOT agreement we've entered into," Boniface said. "The county's done several others."

He also told Bryan Shumway, of Wishrock, that he appreciated Shumway's meeting individually with the council members and answering their questions.

"A rising tide floats all boats and we're talking about the potential for additional security" in a troubled part of the county, Councilman Dick Slutzky added.

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