Howard council votes to create special taxing district in Laurel

The Howard County Council voted Wednesday to create a special taxing district in Laurel at its final session of the summer.

The newly approved legislation allows for the establishment of a special taxing district as part of a tax incremental financing deal, or TIF, for a proposed 64-acre development near the Laurel Park racetrack and MARC station. The county must create the special taxing district in order to freeze any future tax gains from the development and direct that money to fund the effort.

Councilwoman Jen Terrasa and Councilman Calvin Ball voted against the bill, while council members Jon Weinstein, Greg Fox and Mary Kay Sigaty voted in favor.

The legislation passed at the meeting does not in itself create a TIF, but instead allows the designated area to have the possibility of a TIF in the future, thanks to the special taxing district.

"I don't see our establishing a special taxing district as a green light to go completely ahead," Sigaty said during the meeting. "It certainly allows for options, and I think options are indeed what all areas need."

Ball reiterated his concerns about the TIF and the taxing district before casting his vote, saying that he finds it troubling that no one from the community has expressed support for the project. He also said he would like to have more conversations about the project and its impact with the state government and the developer, track owner Stronach Group.

The project proposed by Stronach Group includes plans for 1,000 residential units, 127,000 square feet of retail space, 650,000 square feet of office space and two parking garages with 350 spaces each. The parking garages will support the enhanced MARC station, which currently operates as a flag stop but would have service expanded to three scheduled stops in the morning and three in the evening.

Residents spoke out against the project at the council's public hearing July 17, saying that it does not offer many benefits to residents, and would instead congest traffic in the area.

During what was the final meeting before the council begins its August break, council members also voted to officially table the controversial adequate public facilities and mulching bills. So many people signed up to testify on the bills at the July 17 hearing that the bills were tabled to allow more speakers the chance to testify at a continuation hearing on Sept. 11.

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