Friday, March 17, 2006

Good news for Route 1

I think most of us can agree that Route 1 could use a sprucing up. And to that end, the county has worked hard over the past few years developing a Route 1 revitalization plan and new zoning codes that would make it easier to develop mixed use projects -- which are a good thing.

Despite these efforts, not much has actually been done, but this is a step in the right direction.

The revitalization of U.S. 1, long sought but years away from being realized, will receive a major boost this summer with the first retail-residential development along the historic corridor.

The multimillion-dollar project will address two critical needs: Infusing U.S. 1 with small retail shops and providing housing for workers in relatively modest-paying jobs.

As part of the joint venture with the county, Orchard Development Corp. will build an L-shaped, five-story complex in North Laurel.

The 3 1/2 -acre site contains an old home and an abandoned and decaying motel. Those will be replaced with retail shops on the first floor and 80 one-and-two bedroom apartments on the upper levels.

Mixed use, affordable housing, infill redevelopment...sounds like Town Center. Well, not quite, but it does sound like a decent project, even if the county is helping to fund it.

To jumpstart the project, the county is expected to issue up to $6.5 million in tax-exempt development bonds.

...The Howard County Housing Commission acquired the site for $2.15 million. Orchard will develop, build and manage the project, but after 20 years, the county will have the option of purchasing the residential units, and in 65 years, the entire project will revert to the county, said Leonard S. Vaughan, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development.
The financing is strange, but that doesn't mean it's bad.
Although the county will issue the bonds, it will "have no financial liability. The county is never on the hook," said Robert L. Doory Jr., a principal at the Baltimore law firm of Miles & Stockbridge P.C., the county's bond counsel.

"All of that keeps the project affordable," Armiger said. "If it weren't for all of those, it would be a much higher rent, market rate."

Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the county's Economic Development Authority, said the hope of providing "affordable housing" in the county is unrealistic without subsidies because of soaring land costs and market demand for higher-end units.

"It can't happen unsubsidized, that's for sure," Story said. "The market is up here, and that's the demand. Without public intervention, it's probably not going to happen."

They're right, especially considering the apartments will house families with incomes between $20,000 and $40,000.

In other Route 1 news, over 70 acres were just rezoned to make possible another mixed use project along the corridor.

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