Safety-Fee Hurdle Removed From Brandywine Development
Written by Erich Wagner, Staff Writer, Gazette.net
A proposed mixed-use, 1,200 home development in Brandywine may move forward after a $5 million public services fee has been lifted.
But Prince George's County Planning Board members, who voted to drop the fee April 5, expressed concern that the decision may spur other developers to request retroactive changes in their public safety fees.
The fee was lifted after an error was found in the way police calculated emergency-response times, one factor used in reviews of development projects. Developers must pay a fee when average police response times are more than 10 minutes; the fee is used to make improvements in public safety infrastructure.
The developers had not paid the fee, which kicks in when site grading work begins on a project.
A preliminary plan for the Villages at Timothy Branch on U.S. 301 southeast of Branch Avenue was approved in October, 2010.
Matt Tedesco, an attorney representing the Crofton based developer, Timothy Brandywine Investments, said his client had agreed to the fee "under protest" when a plan was approved for the 334-acre development, which would have about 1,200 houses and 300,000 square feet of retail.
Tedesco said he hopes to have moved the project past the planning stages within the next year.
It took a public information request by Tedesco to the Prince George's County Police Department to reveal that police had been accidentally filing reports of lesser or dated crimes in the same category as emergency calls for crimes in progress when calculating emergency response times.
Although the initial calculation of 11-minute response times in county Police District 5 in 2010, which includes Brandywine, was above the 10-minute threshold for the fee to be imposed, the corrected calculation of average response times was 7.5 minutes.
"[When the fee was initially approved] we knew there was an error, but we just couldn't prove it," Tedesco said. "We needed to make sure the $5 million fee was based on correct, reliable, factual information."
Although Planning Board officials agreed in a 4-0 vote that removing the fee in this case was warranted, some worried about how they would proceed with other cases of developers who want their public safety fees re-evaluated in light of the decision.
Planning Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Hewlett said to avoid a flood of requests for the board to reconsider past project fees, developers will have to provide evidence of flawed fee calculations.
"I don't want the perception to be out there that we [reconsider past proposals] willy-nilly," Hewlett said. "... But what's right is right and what's fair is fair, and if this applicant has been burdened imposed based on erroneous information and kept telling everybody all along, that's not right and that's not fair."
But Tom Dernoga, an attorney representing several residents and civic associations in southern Prince George's, expressed doubts in the updated response time calculations.
"When we talk about redoing the analysis, the [police] analysis did not redo all the calls," Dernoga said. " ... I fear there's a mismatch of what got changed and analyzed based on dated information."
Planning Board Commissioner John Shoaff said that the board should try to obtain the raw response time data from police.
"I note that it would be beneficial to have available the raw data for everyone to look at as well as some ability to further assess how the policy was consistent or inconsistent over time," Shoaff said.
Planning board spokeswoman Andrea Davey said in a statement that planning staff don't think they can request the raw data in accordance with county law.
"Staff has never been asked to look at the raw data and we do not think the law provides for us to ask for it," Davey said. "The responsibility of the police chief is to provide ...the rolling 12-month average, adjusted monthly, for response times in the vicinity of the property proposed for subdivision."