By Jess Grimshaw and Erika Huber
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
The Baltimore County Council voted 7-0 Monday to require the county’s administrative officer to start submitting annual reports that outline what types of developments had been built throughout the year, exactly what open space fees developers paid and how those fees were used.
The reports, which will be due each July, will also require the officer to detail how much open space developers had provided as part of their projects during the year, the name of each development project, the council district where each project was constructed, and the number and type of development units that were built in the county.
The report must also include the amount and location of open space provided by developers as well as the amount of fees that were assessed or collected from developers who did not provide open space as part of their projects. Waiver requests that were granted or denied, including the rationale for the grants or denials, must also be part of the report.
“This bill will increase transparency and is just part of good governing,” Councilman Tom Quirk said after the measure was passed.
Builders who develop projects in heavily urban areas like Towson are required to set aside 1,000 square feet per dwelling unit of open space. Developers can apply for a waiver to the open space requirement but then are assessed an open-space fee by the county – which can be used to build or improve parks and other recreational facilities.
The council has not had enough information in the past on how open-space fees were determined from one development project to the next, Council member Todd Crandell said. In addition, he said the county lacked specific details about which environmental projects the money would go toward and how much was being invested.
“It’s become a mish-mash where some developers pay and others don’t,” Crandell said. “There has been no consistency for fair rates. Some projects have gotten complete waivers for economic development and others have not received the same attention.”
Though there has been no financial corruption regarding open space fees, the goal now is to agree on a number that will allow for the creation of green spaces for residents without discouraging developers from building in Baltimore County, Crandell said.
Proposed solutions include different fees for different projects, tiered fees and raising fees for developers, Crandell said. An increase in fees placed on developers is “not specified nor imminent,” however, according to Deputy Legislative Council Secretary Thomas H. Bostwick.
Meanwhile, interest and concern for the environment in Towson is rapidly growing.
Councilman David Marks, who delayed voting on Bill 78-15 in October in order to leverage more money from the developers of the Towson Row project, as well as Crandell, believe raising fees will incentivize developers to allow for more open space in their projects to avoid penalty fees.
“Downtown Towson is designed for urban living, but even those who like
to live in downtown Towson should have pocket parks to walk their
dogs, to go outside and to play Frisbee,” Marks said. “There is a very strong green element in Towson; people are very interested in sustainability.”
A bill that would directly add to Towson’s amount of open space may be coming but the council is still working on it.
“Parks and recreation are the number one concern of county residents at the moment,” Marks said. “We’re close, we’re very close on the bill.”