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Montgomery off to bumpy start on White Flint

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Local,Maryland,Real Estate,Brian Hughes

Transforming White Flint from a series of disconnected strip malls into an urban town center likely will be delayed, as Montgomery County officials can't agree how to pay for the ambitious redevelopment.

The Montgomery County Planning Board Thursday noted that a financing plan needs to be in place by January to move ahead with the project as outlined, but County Council members, who hold the purse strings, aren't near a consensus.

At the core of the debate: Whether the county is asking developers to foot too much of the bill for the billion-dollar project.

"We need to reach an agreement among all the players that would have the county step up more than it has to date," said Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda/Potomac. "I believe the current plan is lacking in that commitment. At the moment, it doesn't feel like it's a fair split."

County Executive Ike Leggett released a funding blueprint that would establish a special tax district for property owners within three-fourths of a mile of the White Flint station -- excluding existing residential sites -- and impose transportation impact taxes on them as well.

Beginning next fiscal year, property owners within the special tax district would pay an extra 10 cents per $100 of assessed value.

But some of the major White Flint investors -- Federal Realty Investment Trust, Gables Residential and the JBG Cos., among other local businesses -- believe they should pay the charge in place of transportation taxes. They point to a roughly $100 million funding gap for the infrastructure needed to start development.

Council members will hammer out the financing over the next few weeks, but multiple county officials say a solution won't be reached by then.

Berliner said he will introduce a tax increment financing plan similar to the recently approved Crystal City redevelopment in Arlington, but Leggett has called that method too rigid -- it essentially relies on pledged funding increases for White Flint that are susceptible to tax-return fluctuations.

"If you say money has to be spent in White Flint, you know expenses are going to go up elsewhere," said Diane Schwartz Jones, Leggett's assistant chief administrative officer. "We think it's a slippery slope. What do you say to developers in other places?"

The White Flint sector plan calls for three stages of development over the next few decades, which is expected to double density in the area and inject $7 billion into county coffers.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner