The Stronach Group, owner of Laurel Park racetrack, has requested the creation of a special taxing district for approximately 64 acres of adjoining land that it intends to sell off to a developer by the end of the calendar year.

The measure is required ahead of any tax increment financing (TIF) deal with the county that would divert future taxes into a special fund to enable the construction of two parking garages and improvements to upgrade a MARC commuter platform on the property. The stop, which serves the Camden Line, would elevate from a flag stop to a limited service station with three morning and three afternoon stops.
The measure would also enable the county to issue bonds to help finance public infrastructure improvements, such as roads, sidewalk and stormwater management systems.

At a July public hearing before the Howard County Council, Stronach’s Development Manager Jeff Hayes said the owner views the project as a regional development to serve the entire district, and has worked with the county on a land transfer and design of a cost-sharing storm drain overflow system through its property to benefit other property owners in the area.

The TIF is stipulated as part of a proposed Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), which received zoning approval from the council in 2004.

As currently planned, Laurel Park Station would deliver a total of six parking garages, 1,000 residential units, 650,000 square feet of office space and 127,000 square feet of retail, with housing built in four phases.
According to Howard County Director of Planning and Zoning Val Lazdins, housing units specified on a sketch plan approved in 2010 include a mix of apartments, condominiums and townhouses.

Local Pushback

At the council’s July work session, county bond counsel Lindsey Rader of the Baltimore-based Funk & Bolton law firm said the resolution is necessary to protect the county and the public.

“From a disclosure standpoint we think it’s important that potential property owners are put on notice to the fact that their properties may in the future be subject to special taxes,” she said. “That is all this resolution does at this time, it does not approve anything related to a TIF, TIF bonds or special taxing district bonds.”

At its July public hearing, the council heard opposition to the actual project from local residents, as well as the Savage Community Association and the Howard County Citizens Association.
“One thousand units is especially dense for that area, especially considering our public transit system,” said Christiana Rigby, of Columbia. “Our connections to the region need significant investment prior to additional residential units [in this area].”

Councilwoman Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) said she was surprised to hear some local residents register opposition to the MARC station upgrade.
Howard County Deputy Director of Finance Rafiu Ighile said the project is anticipated to be constructed over four possible phases beginning in 2018, with completion expected in 2025.

“This is a 64-acre parking lot, so the tax base and tax assessment is incredibly low,” said Aaron Greenfield, an attorney for the Stronach Group.

The project could move forward without the special taxing district or the TIF, “but we would be looking at redesigning the orientation of the project,” said Hayes.

Education Leadership

On July 18, Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano announced new additions to his leadership team effective Aug. 3.

Rafiu Ighile was appointed chief business and technology officer, overseeing all financial and technology operations, and ensuring responsible stewardship of school system resources.

Frank Eastham was named chief school management and instructional leadership officer, overseeing a vertical educational delivery model that encompasses preschool through Grade 12, and William Barnes was named chief academic officer, overseeing shared accountability, curriculum and instruction, special education and student services. Barnes is currently director of secondary and Pre-K–12 curricular programs, while Eastham currently serves as executive director of school administration and Improvement.

Jahantab Siddiqui, currently deputy chief of staff for the Howard County executive, was appointed chief communication, community/workforce engagement officer, overseeing communications, workforce engagement and partner engagement.

Also in July, Martirano joined Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) and County Councilmember Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4) to announce the Launch Into Learning initiative at a meeting of the Howard County Early Childhood Advisory Council.

Encompassing resources and support from various agencies and programs available to all Howard County families with children from birth to age 8, Launch Into Learning connects parents, caregivers, education and child care programs, businesses and county agencies, and also serves as a community hub to access information about early learning.