Developers wrangle over proffers

Developers wrangle over proffers

Last Wednesday the developers of two of the largest projects in the county stood before the Board of Supervisors and tried to get some of their money back. The August 8 Board work session was a chance for the developers of Biscuit Run and Hollymead Town Center to hear what kinds of proffers the county wants for its September meeting, where the projects will be up for approval. But it also was a time for the developers to ask for proffer credits, deductions from the payments made to the county to build beyond zoning regulations.

Let’s make a deal? Biscuit Run’s Steve Blaine appealed to the Board of Supervisors for proffer credits, winning some and losing others.

While the county has a proffers policy that stipulates the amount developers must pay per unit, its proffer credit policy is a little less formal. In fact, as the Board discussed what it called its "de facto" credit policy, supe Sally Thomas suggested, jokingly one can only assume, that Board members used air quotes when referring to it.

"There are things we’re always going to give credit for, and there are things that are unique to specific developments," says supe Dennis Rooker. "There’s going to be individual assessments." With two of the county’s big developments up for discussion, developers took their best shots.

J.P. Williamson of Hollymead presented eight items he wanted to use as proffer credits, including a three-acre recycling center and improvements to Route 29N. County staff pointed out that even if Hollymead had been built by-right (and thus with no proffers), the improvements to 29 would still have been necessary.

Since credits are done largely on a case-by-case basis, developers have every incentive to try to get money knocked off their proffers for extras they probably would have done anyway. That leads to situations like the one that happened last Wednesday with Biscuit Run, where developers tried to get credit for running a private transportation line from the development into the city. Such a feature could also be seen as an amenity. It’s up to the Board to weed out perks couched in the language of credits.

Attorney Steve Blaine took the rejection stoically. When told that Biscuit Run, the project he represents, still had a $4.5 million proffer gap to fill before the next Board meeting in September, he answered, "I think we can make that up."

"Any developer would like to reduce his proffer obligation as much as he can," says Rooker. "It’s our job to sort through the wheat and chaff." He points to Biscuit Run’s east-west road as a project that the county won’t give credit for because it’s necessary to the development. "What we are giving credit for," say Rooker, "is that it’s built to a higher standard than required to handle through traffic."

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