In yet another disappointing day for the Odenton Town Center, Anne Arundel officials joined Howard County officials this month in celebrating the groundbreaking of the new Annapolis Junction MARC station Transit-Oriented Development.
The project, being master-developed by Arundel Preserve developer Somerset Construction, will include a 704-space commuter garage, as well as housing, retail, and office space.
Both the Odenton and Annapolis Junction projects were begun through unsolicited proposals to the state in 2005, although in the case of the Annapolis Junction site, competing proposals were solicited and evaluated. Both sites were designated as official TOD sites by the state of Maryland in 2008, and both were designated as BRAC Revitalization and Incentive Zones in 2009.
Both are part of larger redevelopment plans — for Annapolis Junction, the Route 1 Corridor Revitalization Plan, and for Odenton, the Odenton Town Center Master Plan. So why is the Annapolis Junction project underway while the Odenton TOD, despite serving a much busier station adjacent to Fort George G. Meade, languishes?
The answer is commitment, both on the part of the county and the master developer.
Howard County issued $17 million in bonds to finance the construction of the state-owned Annapolis Junction commuter parking garage and other infrastructure improvements such as roads, water, sewer, and storm water management. These bonds will be paid back by a combination of tax-increment financing (new property tax revenues generated from the project), state BRAC incentive funds, and a special tax district.
Without this investment, the project would not have been feasible, but this $17 million is leveraging an expected $144-million investment in the site that will return tax revenues to the county and state for decades to come.
Anne Arundel County has all the same tools at its disposal — in fact, TIFs have been used on a number of projects in the past several years, including Waugh Chapel Towne Centre, Annapolis Towne Centre, and expansion at National Business Park. Why have they not been used to spur development of the Odenton Town Center?
As a tax-capped county, the only way Anne Arundel County can sustain its growing need for resources is through tax revenues from new development. TIFs delay access to that revenue in the interests of leveraging greater revenue streams later — but for politicians looking at the next year's budget (and election) cycle, the temptation to collect now may just be too strong.
Adding to the frustration — and the delays — is the lack of progress on the part of the developer. Due first to the collapse of the real estate market, then to the inability to structure a deal with the county and state that could cover the cost of the garages needed in Odenton, which are five times larger than the one at Annapolis Junction, negotiations have dragged on for nearly 10 years.
After so long, the development team is understandably hesitant to commit financially to a project for which they have seen little state and county support, and the result is now a stalemate, each party waiting for the other to move.
Odenton, and Anne Arundel County taxpayers, are the losers here.
Traffic continues to build at the Odenton MARC station without relief, the area lacks the services demanded by residents, and the county is foregoing tax revenues that could have been realized years ago (or at least been financing needed infrastructure).
There's plenty of talk about moving forward with key developments in Odenton, and that's progress. It's time now to take action, as Howard County has done.