- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
At a time when Charles County is facing deficits to both its operating and capital budgets, it must in the coming months buy back the stalled Indian Head Science and Technology Park in Bryans Road for double its recently assessed value.
Per a 2008 contract between the county and current co-owners Corporate Office Properties Trust and Facchina Group of Cos., if the park remained unoccupied as of August 2014, then the county would purchase the land back at its 2008 price.
But the park’s value was recently assessed at $3 million, commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said Tuesday during the board’s weekly meeting.
“It would seem to me that it would be so imprudent for us to purchase land for $6-plus million that is assessed at only $3 million without first understanding the legal implications,” she said.
Kelly asked County Attorney Barbara Holtz for an opinion on whether the county’s current practice of receiving three appraisals prior to any potential land purchases was law or merely policy, and also questioned whether the previous commissioners’ board had authority to enter into the tech park agreement without such assessments.
The county currently faces a $10.2 million deficit to its general fund, and a $5.3 million shortfall in its five-year Capital Improvement Program.
COPT spokeswoman Stephanie Krewson said the company had no comment.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) asked staff for a history of the tech park project.
“What I’m looking for is a connect the dots, how it started and how we got from 2008 to 2014 on this land,” he said.
Holtz said she would be ready to brief the commissioners on their questions next week during a closed session.
Kelly’s revelation of the park’s assessed value came after Robinson said he was “absolutely, vehemently” opposed to a recommendation from fiscal staff that the tech park be purchased with developers’ rights and responsibilities agreement funding, which is typically earmarked for school construction.
Under the staff proposal, the county would use the DRRA fund to buy the tech park and then reimburse the fund following a future sale of the park, Fiscal and Administrative Services Director Dave Eicholtz said.
The other option is to buy the tech park with bond funding as part of the CIP, but that also would inflate the capital budget’s current deficit, Eicholtz said.
Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) joined Robinson and Kelly in opposition to the staff proposal, stating he would rather use the county’s $5 million cable fund to help purchase the tech park.
Eicholtz said the cable fund is not large enough to cover the entire cost of the tech park, but with three commissioners openly opposed to using DRRA funds, Eicholtz dropped the staff recommendation.
Last week, during the board’s May 6 meeting, Kelly suggested looking into whether any conservation groups would be interested in purchasing a portion of the park and preserving it. She reasoned that, during the course of planning the park, the county likely would be required to reserve some of the acreage as green space.
“Isn’t the rest of the county green now?” Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) asked, in reference to the board’s recent agreement to place the bulk of the county’s land into a septic “tier” zone slated for conservation. “[The tech park] is the only place we got for big business to come in.”
“I have some objections to limiting the land for the tech park,” Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) said. “I believe it’s going to be an economic boon, especially for the western side of the county.”
“There’s a tech park in Waldorf that’s pretty much empty that’s in an area that probably makes more sense,” Robinson said.
“We definitely need it on the western side of the county,” Davis said. She later called Kelly’s proposal a “complete policy change, policy shift as far as how we felt about our support of the tech park.”
Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) said he was “extremely reluctant to make a decision at this time, which would drastically reduce potential options for the county.”
“Let’s look at the long-term impact of decisions we make now will have on our ability to build a robust economy,” he said. “I mean, we’ve literally made virtually the entire county green.”
Kelly said the county’s efforts to develop the tech park had thus far “failed miserably.”
“It would be a failure if we gave up now,” Collins said. “And you’re talking about a period where we were going through a recession. I think it would clearly be a failure if we sold out, and then that would be our position.”
Click the link under “related items” to view a copy of the Indian Head Tech Park agreement.