The fairly recent proliferation of apartment projects in Calvert County has given a majority of the county commissioners concern, as evidenced by their lengthy discussion on Nov. 16 about the history of the transferable development rights committee and the current TDR sliding scale.
According to the presentation made by Mary Beth Cook, planning and zoning director, and Rachel O’Shea, zoning planner, the county’s TDR sliding scale affects residential projects proposed for the Prince Frederick, Lusby and Solomons town centers.
The TDR program allows rural property owners to sell development rights of parcels in an area where residential growth is discouraged to developers owning land in an area, such as a town center, where increased density is directed.
Since adoption of the sliding scale, two apartment complexes in Prince Frederick — Calvert Hills (96 apartments) and Beech Tree (249 apartments) — have been built. Patuxent Commons, which will add 68 townhouses to Prince Frederick’s inventory, was approved in 2020. Earlier this year, approval was granted to Lusby Villas, which will had 276 apartments.
“It looks like there is ample apartments on the books and existing,” declared Commissioner Mike Hart (R) during the work session.
Hart repeated his contention that Calvert “is a bedroom community,” adding that the county’s newcomers are “leaving areas that reflect a lot of apartments.”
The commissioner, who represents the area where the behemoth Lusby Villas will be built, stated no resident he has ever spoken with has said to him “build more apartments.”
With the current TDRs required to build a multi-family dwelling based on the number of bedrooms in a unit, Hart said he would prefer to see all future apartment complex projects require five TDRs per dwelling.
“It’s so much greater than just the building,” said Hart. “It’s everything that comes with it. I don’t think we can afford any more apartments.”
Rodney Gertz of Quality Built Homes is member of the TDR committee representing the development community. His company is developing the Lusby Villas project.
“It’s just such a complex issue,” Gertz told the commissioners. “The old processes that were in place led to no growth, no use of TDRs in the town centers for over a 10-year period.”
Without specifically mentioning the Smart Growth and Plan Maryland initiatives of the previous decades, Gertz noted that the state “was pushing everyone to these types of projects. I was doing the opposite. Nobody wants to see runaway growth. People want Calvert to be country. They want it to be rural, me included. The sliding scale was brought in to actually encourage a few of these projects. I would just ask that we ‘grandfather’ people that have already spent millions of dollars on projects that are basically vested.”
Gertz also told the board Calvert has “a finite amount” of TDRs and the county is likely to “retire half of them.”
The developer said adding apartments to Calvert’s inventory will “keep some balance in the housing ecosystem.” He further noted that the Beech Tree project is clearly providing some workforce housing in Calvert.
Hart countered that with current low interest rates, purchasing a “starter home” would be a better option since there is equity at the end of the timeline for the resident.
Of apartments, Hart affirmed, “are not the answer for the young family starting out because they have no equity in it. When you’ve got skin in the game you’re more likely to [have] taken more pride, more ownership.”
Commissioner President Earl F. “Buddy” Hance (R) agreed with Hart about the need to increase the TDRs required for apartment buildings.
“It’s not an equal transfer,” said Hance. “For us it’s a financial issue.”
Commissioner Christopher J. Gadway (R) told Gertz he didn’t favor halting vested projects, but also conveyed a sense of urgency to halt any apartment projects not currently in the pipeline.
“We’re still looking at another 400 units until this can get slowed down,” Gadway said.
As board action time approached, Hance, who has TDRs on the market, left the meeting room.
Commissioner Steven R. Weems (R) conceded that the tenet of retaining rural character in Calvert while accommodating growth in the seven town centers was “a paradox.” He added that he heard members of the TDR committee recommend retaining the current sliding scale.
“For years we’ve tried to protect the rural community, but now we’re saying we don’t want growth anywhere,” Commissioner Kelly D. McConkey (R) observed. “In the long run we’re not really helping the farmer if they [developers] are not buying the TDRs.”
The sliding scale determines the number of TDRs a developer must purchase to build a house, with a single family home over 10,000 square feet at the top of the scale (five TDRs) and a one-bedroom multi-family dwelling, such as an apartment, at the lower end of the scale (one TDR).
An effort to alter the sliding scale failed on a tie vote. A second motion to discuss the issue in a joint work session with the planning commission then found unanimous favor for the four commissioners remaining in the room.