A 173-acre mixed use development that has been stalled for years will likely break ground next spring thanks to help from Frederick’s Board of County Commissioners and the state of Maryland.
Jefferson Technology Park, west of Frederick city within the U.S. 340 and MD 180 corridor, will include 825 homes, a 250-bed hotel, 225,000 square feet of retail space, and 1 million square feet of research and development space. Developers have estimated that the park will have generated 6,800 direct and indirect jobs since 2005, but a lawsuit and a flagging economy have stifled progress.
To move ahead, Jefferson Park Development asked commissioners on June 13 to help finance $40 million in road, bridge and sewer improvements by creating a special tax district to authorize tax-exempt bonds. Of that, $15 million is going to the state for an access break on a state road. Commissioners voted Thursday to send the issue to public hearing at 10 a.m., July 19 at Winchester Hall. To provide the financing, commissioners must create a community development authority, similar to the special tax district created for development along Monocacy Boulevard, and in Urbana.
If commissioners vote to approve the action, the bond debt will be repaid in tax revenue collected from increases in property taxes on the park, a special assessment levied on all property holders within the development. Commissioners’ President emphasized Thursday and in an interview that county taxpayers will not pay the cost of the infrastructure related to the development.
“There is no immediate financial risk to taxpayers of Frederick County,” Young said in an interview. “The pressure is on the developers to develop the site. If they cannot generate enough to pay the money in the tax district, then they are on the hook for the difference.”
Jim Cumbie, of Venable LLP, bond counsel to Frederick County, told commissioners last Thursday that the most important thing to understand is that the sources of payment for the bonds don’t go outside of the Jefferson Technology Park. The only risk to the taxpayer is the loss of property tax income generated by the park to the tax base, Cumbie said.
Progress was slowed by a requirement to construct a bridge over U.S. 340/15. Developers couldn't get the necessary permits because of a standoff between the county and state about which would own and maintain the bridge.
The county is prepared to maintain the bridge, and developers will contribute $4 million to $6 million to construct it, Young said, negating the need to continue the lawsuit filed in 2009 against the county. Former county commissioner Kai Hagen said the county taking responsibility for maintaining a bridge over an interstate is unprecedented. “This is NOT normal...and will cost Frederick County taxpayers,” Hagen said in an email.
Young countered that the state gave the county two choices: maintain the bridge or take over some secondary state roads in the county. The bridge, he said, will be less expensive to maintain than the roads, which are not up to county standards.
And although the county has existing office space that is empty, Young said the types of spaces planned for the tech park are much larger to accommodate different types of businesses.
“This isn’t competing against typical commercial space. These are large sites that have to be ready when opportunity is there,” Young said. “JTP [developers] believe there’s opportunities to bring large businesses such as the Social Security Administration in Urbana. Urbana would never would have gotten that if the site was not already prepared.”