New restrictions on which developers can opt to pay into a transportation fund rather than meet road standards may discourage development in southern Prince George’s County, some developers and business leaders say.
A resolution passed 8-1 by the Prince George’s County Council on July 12 stopped contributions by residential and mixed-use developers to the Brandywine Road Club in lieu of meeting transportation standards by the county planning board. Commercial and industrial businesses can still contribute to the fund.
Supporters of the resolution said that since the inception of the road club in the early 1990s, residential development has significantly outpaced infrastructure upgrades, causing significant congestion in the Brandywine area.
Developers who oppose the new restrictions argue that paying for transportation upgrades outright is significantly more expensive than contributing to the road club, and requires more cash up front.
County Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro said he introduced the legislation in an effort to slow residential growth until the Brandywine area has better transportation infrastructure, such as light rail or rapid bus transit, and ease commercial development.
“[Commercial and industrial] development ... does a lot more than just pay into the road club,” Franklin said. “It actually helps our tax base.”
He said he is looking into a way to allow mixed-use development that is primarily commercial to use the road club again.
The road club was designed so developers could contribute, and the funds would be pooled together to improve transportation infrastructure in the area. But it was ineffective, Franklin said, citing that in its 20 years of existence, the fund has only contributed around $500,000 to one transportation project in 2009, an expansion of U.S. 301 from four lanes to six from Timothy Branch to the U.S. 301/Route 5 interchange, and currently has a balance of $2.6 million.
The resolution will not affect projects already moving through the development process, officials said.
Councilwoman Leslie Johnson (D-Dist. 6) of Mitchellville, who is slated to resign at the end of the month after pleading guilty to evidence-tampering, was the only council member to vote against the resolution, but did not explain her vote.
Leo Bruso, president of Land & Commercial Inc., an Upper Marlboro-based commercial real estate company, said he opposed the resolution because the real problem is that the state and federal governments have not improved the area roads that are their responsibilities.
“There was nothing in Brandywine in 1990, but there was still traffic,” Bruso said. “It’s not a Prince George’s problem, so don’t penalize taxpayers for non-county problems. It isn’t County Route 301, it’s U.S. 301, and it’s Maryland Route 5.”
Marty Mitchell, president of the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, said it is difficult for developers to come up with enough money for up-front transportation upgrades in addition to the money needed for what they plan to build.
“If you’re trying to finance [transportation upgrades] up front, before you even have the additional need from [the development] itself, you can forget about getting your project approved by bankers, lenders or investors,” Mitchell said.