County planners see the real estate slowdown as an opportunity to play catch-up on growth controls, but there are clouds in this silver lining. Consider the tense drama being played out between Anne Arundel County and Warren E. Halle, the developer of major residential and commercial projects in Odenton.
On Monday night, impervious to Mr. Halle's threats and heavy-handed lobbying, the county council unanimously voted in a raft of development controls for Odenton town center, the last slice of the county not subject to some growth management mechanism.
Now Mr. Halle says he won't provide $14 million for road upgrades, won't donate land for a train station and may well abandon plans for a residential/commercial project on a 218-acre parcel at the junction of Routes 175 and 32. The builder also has filed an $18 million lawsuit against the county, claiming that he should be exempted from county adequate public facilities regulations covering Seven Oaks, his huge residential development.
Mr. Halle claims the provisions of the bill are financially odious at a time when homes and commercial space aren't selling. He tried mightily to sway the council, but succeeded only in enlisting the support of Councilman David Boschert, who represents the Odenton district.
Apparently Mr. Halle thinks that tough economic times entitle him to special treatment. Anne Arundel County likely hasn't seen the last of this kind of arm-twisting, and it is likely to crop up in other jurisdictions as well. A near-petrified real estate market and high carrying costs undoubtedly will prompt many builders involved with local governments to press for better terms.
Anne Arundel was right to stick to its guns. Acting now to prevent gridlock and crowded schools is the only prudent course of action in a region full of pockets where development has careened out of control. Threats and ultimatums are the currency of negotiation in the cyclical business of building homes and offices. Local governments must look beyond these to the long-term interests of those who live within their borders.