Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Train Wrecked

Preston Partners was able to outbid other developers to purchase the Coca-Cola site in Hanover because they saw this as a mixed use site instead of an industrial site. They were betting that they could convince the county to rezone the land for Transit Oriented Development which would allow them a residential component and a higher yield than warehouses would provide. The bet paid off, at least partially, when the county zoning board granted the zoning change.

The only problem is that the zoning change did not alter the basic facts on the ground. This is still, by nature, an industrial site. The property is bordered by the CSX Main line and is surrounded by warehouses. Now CSX is considering the area for a new intermodal transit terminal. According to this story by Larry Carson and Michael Dresser in The Sun, a site in Hanover, which is less than a mile from the proposed Oxford Square development, is “among a dozen possible rail facility locations for a CSX container transfer facility…”

"The rail plan is intended to both free more cargo space at the port while moving the container transfer station south of Baltimore's antiquated 19th-century Howard Street train tunnel to allow CSX to stack containers two-high on railroad cars for movement to Midwestern markets.

"They want to be on the main line, their Camden Line, south of the Howard Street tunnel," said Leif Dormsjo, chief of staff to Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley. The search is on for easily accessible sites of under 100 acres, zoned for industrial use, environmentally suitable, where a big crane could work moving containers from trucks to trains."

Hanover may actually be the preferred site for this facility due to its proximity to highways. This is great news for the warehouses in that area, but it’s not so great for residential development, much less a new elementary school. That’s a problem. As part of their development agreement Preston Partners has agreed to give the school system a 20 acre site in their 122 acre development as well as $4 million to build a much needed school. Without a new elementary school in Elkridge, the development will not be able to satisfy its Adequate Public Facilities requirement. Right now it appears that the Oxford Square elementary school site is dead in the water.

Preston Partners isn’t only developer that’s getting railroaded in their attempt to change the character of the area either. CSG Partners built three office buildings on an adjacent tract of land in 2009. Like Oxford Square, the buildings are bordered by the CSX mainline. The rumbling of trains past the project proved to be a detriment for office prospects. In December the 130,000 square foot project was taken back by its lender. The three buildings remain vacant today.

If the developer had built single story buildings with loading docks instead they'd be leased by now.
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