October Update

The Chapter met with County Executive Craig to present development regulations modifications and 3 pieces of legislation have been introduced to change local ordinances.  Our Chapter identified several modifications to development regulations which will ease (not eliminate) the burden on the industry, provide economic incentives for new development, and will help the industry recover and reach its full potential in creating good paying jobs and providing tax revenue for the County.  Our proposals focused on housing set-backs, preliminary plan and record plat extensions, school APFO impact fees and capacity, and NRD Natural Resource Districts.  We believe these changes will not violate good planning principles and will not harm or adversely affect Harford County, but will benefit greatly our members doing business in the county and we look forward to discussing the below ideas with you and your Administration. 

Legislation:

1) 13-35 CCRC height adjustments from 50 ft to 4 stories in the R1 and R2, and from 60ft to 6 stories in R3 and R4.

2) 13-36 NRD district threshold changed from 30% to 25%. HBAM proposal.  

The Harford County Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland supports Council Bill 13-36 and urges the Council to approve the legislation.

Currently, if more than 30% of a parcel zoned residential is within a Natural Resource District then the housing types and design requirements, excluding gross density, of the next most dense residential district shall apply.  CB 13-36 changes the percent of the residential parcel in the NRD district to 25%. 

As the development envelope continues to be built out, the percentage of properties with environmental constraints is increasing.  Our members believe it is important to balance protection of these resources while allowing the properties to achieve the density that best suits the location and promotes smart growth.  This legislation does not allow for additional density, but allows for the same density to fit in a smaller area, thus creating more protected open space for the future residents.

We believe this is an important bill that will allow responsible development inside the development envelope to continue and we urge the Council’s support.

3) 13-37 preliminary plan and record plat extensions. Prelim plans would be valid for 3 years with a 1 year extension. Current law says valid for 2 years with a 2 year extension.  Legislation also extends record plats from 180 days to 1 year. 

The Harford County Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland supports Council Bill 13-37 with amendment and urges the Council to modify the legislation.

Currently, preliminary plans are valid for 2 years and the county may grant a 2 year extension.  At the end of 4 years, the developer has to record the plat and start paying county taxes and additional fees.  As proposed in council bill 13-37, a preliminary plan would be valid for 3 years and the county could grant a 1 year extension.  As introduced, this legislation does not change the length of time preliminary plan approvals remains valid (4 years) and is not sufficient to provide relief and grant additional time to get a project moving forward.

Development projects, particularly large developments, often need additional time beyond 4 years to move forward.  Because of the recession and Harford County’s slow recovery, forcing projects to record in 4 years is resulting in additional economic hardships and is causing tax-paying projects to either move forward with a less desirable product or sit idle while paying taxes.  Allowing preliminary plans to remain valid for 3 years with a 3 year extension would provide adequate time to secure permits and move forward when the market is ready.  This amendment will allow approved plans that would move forward under normal economic conditions additional time to become feasible while also recognizing that permits from other governmental agencies including Maryland Department of the Environment and the State Highway Administration are taking longer to get approvals.  As such, HBAM supports CB 13-37 with an amendment granting a 3 year extension for a total of 6 years before recordation.

HBAM members support section 268-24 as proposed in this legislation.  This section will allow final plats to be fully executed but not recorded for up to 1 year. Currently, a final plat may be fully executed but not recorded for up to 180 calendar days.  This modification will ease the economic burden on developers by allowing real estate taxes to be deferred until recordation, and it will protect a project from changes to development regulations and laws that could drastically change the projects design.

Extending preliminary plan approvals to 3 years before requesting an extension is a positive step, but 3 year approvals plus a 3 year extension is necessary to provide additional time for projects to move forward and we urge your support. 

4) 13-38 repealing the stormwater fee 

Cecil County raises sewer connection fees

Cecil County delayed implementation of new sewer hook-up fees from $8,000 to $12,000 until October 1.  The Council delayed the new fees 90 days from their original July 1 implementation to give them more time to study the reasons for the increase. The Council held a hearing where HBAM members testified against the increase.  The Chapter has also met with County Executive Moore to urge her to stop the increase.   CE Moore is pushing the higher fees to pay for infrastructure upgrades that our Chapter members and some on the Council do not feel are needed.  The Chapter drafted the following editorial and sent it to area papers but it was not published.

Home Builders Association of Maryland Remarks on Cecil County Water and Sewer Connection Fee

The Cecil County Council did the right thing in delaying for 90 days the significant increases to sewer connection fees in order to have a healthy discussion on infrastructure needs to accommodate future growth.  Developers in the County appreciate the opportunity to continue this discussion and we hope that the decision makers will use this time to reconsider their earlier commitments. 

Developers have serious concerns about the County’s infrastructure growth plan and the proposed fee to fund these decisions, but the issue isn’t solely about the increase in the cost of doing business.  Our main concern is the unintended consequences and financial burdens these decisions will create for all Cecil County residents in the near future, especially when the solution seems so simple.

The proposed connection fee of $16,100 per home is based on a rate study and 5-year growth plan costing roughly $95 million.  Included in this rate study are inaccurate growth projections and projects that won’t be built in the 5-year timeframe.  If the rate study more accurately measured current and future growth, and didn’t include projects like the $13.7 million sewer interceptor from Port Deposit to Seneca Point that we don’t believe will be built within 5-years, the resulting fee, and annual debt service obligations, would be much lower. 

After comparing actual growth to what is projected in this rate study, we believe the County’s growth projections are unrealistic and pose a severe threat to all Cecil County taxpayers.  Should growth occur at a slower pace that what is projected, as we believe it will, the recovered capital costs via hookup fees will not be sufficient to cover the new annual debt service on bonds.  This shortfall will have to be covered by all taxpayers because there are not enough new projects to fully fund commitments.  This shortfall and commitment could be avoided if the County would revise their estimates and issue a new rate study. 

The solution our members have proposed is simple and will protect taxpayers from the unintended consequences of bad planning: the County should review the deferred capital improvement projects and excluded those not of immediate need and benefit to the County until the earlier of 1) a substantial increase in permit activity, or 2) two years.  Excluding these future improvements that will not likely occur in 5 years reduces the total cost of new investments from $95 million to $38 million, and the resulting connection fee would equate to $8,300, a much more manageable increase of $300 rather than $8,100.

There is a middle ground for compromise but only if the County takes a more realistic look at its rate model and growth projections.  It’s not too late to revise projections but it will be after October 1 when the 90-day delay is up and the new fees are implemented.  The County is headed down a dangerous path it won’t be able to turn back from, and all taxpayers will be hurt if things don’t go as planned.