Council kills Pay and Go
by Steven T. Dennis
A deal under which an impact tax on new development would have been approved along with an easing of growth controls collapsed Thursday in the County Council.
The council voted 5-4 to kill the alternative development process known as Pay and Go.
The slim slow-growth majority on the council refused to go along with the relaxed development rules that pro-growth council members had required as their price for backing the impact tax. The council voted 6-3 to delay a vote on the tax.
"The slow-growth wing of the council hijacked the process and carried the day," said Councilman Derick P. Berlage (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, a member of the pro-growth camp.
Council President Isiah Leggett (D-At large) of Burtonsville said he could not see any chance for an impact tax for the rest of this council's term.
"The impact tax is essentially dead," Leggett said. "I don't see how it is going to be revived."
Some said there was still a chance of reaching a compromise in the next few months on a more modest package. Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, a leader of the slow-growth wing, said he would be willing to look at a deal for the impact tax that would involve clearing the so-called "development pipeline" of projects that have been approved but never built. That would permit some new projects to be built under the county's strict growth caps.
"There's not a willingness to compromise on Pay and Go at this point," Andrews said. "I came to the conclusion that the risk of increasing traffic congestion outweighed the benefits."
Andrews said he particularly objected to allowing more housing in areas already under construction moratoriums because of traffic congestion.
"My primary objective going in was not to do anything to worsen traffic congestion," he said.
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan blasted the County Council for failing to pass a reform of the Annual Growth Policy to free up space for more development.
"It hurts our ability to grow our tax base ... and it hurts us in the competition we have with other jurisdictions," he said.
"Unless we have the pieces in place to deal with those growth issues ... and our transportation problems the whole county will suffer."
Duncan said the council would have to revisit the issue at some point. He said downtown Silver Spring is close to development caps because the growth policy counts thousands of jobs that do not exist. He said the policy does not take into account that some office buildings are empty, or that some projects have been approved but never built.
"The council has to fix this. I can't do it," Duncan said.
"This was their assignment. Three years ago when I raised this issue ... they said this was our responsibility, its up to us to do it. Here they had the chance and they've just deferred it."
Under the County Charter, Duncan does not have authority to veto the council's 5-4 vote to eliminate Pay and Go.
But Duncan still played a key role because he could have vetoed an impact tax that did not include a reform of the growth policy.
Pay and Go was introduced as a development spur. It allows developers to bypass the adequate public facilities rules by paying an upfront fee. Slow-growth advocates have criticized the program as a giveaway to developers.
Leggett, who said he generally opposes the impact tax because it increases the cost of housing, said he and others in the pro-growth minority would have no incentive to go along with the tax without a deal easing growth restrictions.
Leggett said he was bewildered by the vote. He said the deal collapsed on what he called largely symbolic issues whether to continue Pay and Go in some form and whether to allow a small number of houses to be built in moratorium areas.
"There was nothing there in my opinion to be fighting about," he said.
Leggett dismissed the significance of the death of Pay and Go, saying it "was essentially dead already."
Leggett also said any future deal for an impact tax would require far more concessions from the slow-growth crowd.
But those on the opposite side of the fence called the vote a victory for Montgomery County's history of controlled growth.
"A year ago, in defending our growth policies, I said I was one of the few who didn't suffer from Virginia envy," said Councilwoman Betty Ann Krahnke (R-Dist. 1) of Chevy Chase. "We certainly don't want to end up with their transportation nightmare."