Friday, April 04, 2008

Prime Development Opportunity? Perhaps.

When Jim Robey was the County Executive he envisioned creating a new county office complex on 24 acres of land at the intersection of Rogers Avenue and US Route 40. The County purchased the property in 2000 for $3.7 million.

The county put out a bid proposal to the development community. The competition was whittled down to Trammell Crow Company and our own hometown national developer, Corporate Properties Office Trust (COPT). COPT won. I should note here that development proposals of this scale are rather extensive and expensive. The developer enlists architects, lawyers, engineers and other consultants to help them prepare a vision for the project. These costs can easily exceed $100,000.

Now the county has changed it’s mind, or at least the current administration has. The county has now decided to renovate the existing county complex and purchase a floor of space in the proposed Meridian Square development. They have decided to sell the Rogers Avenue property to fund these plans. COPT and its hard won right to develop the project for the county is left holding the bag so to speak. True, while this can just be racked up to the cost of doing business, it still hurts.

It’s a shame. This property sits at one of the major gateways into historic Ellicott City. A government complex here would have had a significant impact on transforming that portion of Route 40. Right now it is a collection of strip shopping, auto dealers, fast food and a porn shop. Talk about an area that could use some revitalization!

Hopefully someone with vision will snap this up. Perhaps COPT will go ahead and take a shot at it.

Maybe we will.

The county paid a little over $150,000 per acre eight years ago. Right now the going rate for prime office land (think Columbia Gateway) is around $600,000.00 per acre. The major difference being that the land in Gateway is ready to go. It is cleared and rough graded. When you buy 24 acres, you get 24 acres. The land on Rogers Avenue is heavily wooded. The euphemism that is commonly used is raw. The purchaser won’t get to use all 24 acres. They’ll get somewhere between 15 and 20 acres to build on if they are lucky.

Still, it will probably fetch a pretty nice number and the county will likely end up with a fair return on their investment in Ellicott City real estate.


Tom said...

How about downtown Columbia. A significant County presence in downtown would show the County is committed to the downtown redevelopment and make it a more vibrant place during the day.

Anonymous said...

So giving a little revitalization boost to Oakland Mills will cost residents of this part of Ellicott City 24 rare acres of still forested land? If the County were going to acquire a similar 24 acres of contiguous, accessible, forested parkland in Ellicott City to serve the community, somehow I think it would cost the County millions and millions.

By selling it at what, maybe $400k per acre x 24 acres, gets $9.6 million, or $6 million after the cost of the original purchase. I doubt the County could acquire a park there of that size for $6 million.

Prior to selling this forested area and spending the proceeds in other parts of the County and at the County buildings, I think a fresh look at the Route 40 corridor plan is worth doing. Part of that study's recommendation for revitalization was to make Route 40 more pedestrian friendly, including a greening of it. A park along it would serve as a great resource to do so and for the corridor in general. I think the many neighborhoods nearby would agree, many families living to its east, south, and just across Route 40 from it.

A pedestrian overpass right at the western tip would be ideal, too, since I see too many kids dashing across multiple lanes of Route 40 from the academy that abuts these 24 acres. (There are two schools right there, the driving school on the north side and the academy on the south side).

And, while Route 40 could certainly stand some aesthetic improvements, if grocery store, gas station, restaurant, and other amenities' density (and longevity) and traffic congestion are any indication, it's certainly not in dire need of additional development.

If we're really trying to be much more green when it comes to development, why are you calling this completely forested, greenspace "prime development opportunity"? Brownfield development (rebuilding where previous development has already occurred) should be where development happens in the Route 40 corridor if we really want to do revitalization right.

Anonymous said...

With very little lots of forested land of that size and so close to developed areas why do we have to develop them at all. Mature forested area provide more than just a place for animals to live, they are the natural filters of the daily toxins we emit.