Another suggestion for financing street improvements

Another suggestion for financing street improvements

In our testimony to the County Council last night, the Action Committee for Transit suggested another possible approach financing the rebuilding of Rockville Pike – using the existing Bethesda Parking District as a mechanism for implementing property owners’ self-taxation.  This would make it possible to rebuild Rockville Pike immediately, addressing a criticism that has been directed against the Planning Board proposal from all sides.  It also has the advantage of simplicity in avoiding creation of a new organization.

Here is our proposal.  Full text of ACT’s testimony is here.

  • Add the White Flint MSPA to the territory of the Bethesda Parking District.
  • Resize the planned underground public parking garage in the Lot 31 mixed use development (on the parking lot site opposite Barnes & Noble in downtown Bethesda) to a single level, sufficient to replace the existing surface parking. Because the depth of the planned garage (7 levels including private parking for the development) raises the cost of the planned public garage to over $80,000 per parking space, this will yield a large saving — some $60 to $70 million.
  • Immediately rebuild Rockville Pike in the White Flint area to the Glatting-Jackson cross-section. Fund construction with Parking District capital freed up by downsizing the Lot 31 garage.  Funding sources would be the excess of the sale price of Lot 31 over the construction cost of a one-level garage, planned bond issuance by the Parking District, and Parking District surplus revenues during construction. (Pedestrian and streetscape improvements are a permitted use of Parking District funds under current county ordinances.)
  • Collect a temporary tax on all commercial property in the White Flint MSPA regardless of how much parking they have.  The tax could be supplemented with either revenue from property tax increments from new development or impact tax revenues.  This revenue would be paid to the Parking District in addition to the permanent parking tax, which would continue to be imposed on buildings with limited parking in both downtown Bethesda and White Flint MSPAs. In concept, the temporary tax serves the same purpose as a synagogue’s building fund assessment or a country club’s initiation fee — you are joining a club that has substantial capital assets, and in fairness you have an obligation to match the contributions made over the years by earlier members. 
  • Use revenues from the temporary tax and tax increment funding to repay bonds issued to rebuild Rockville Pike. Discontinue temporary tax when aggregate revenues cover cost of White Flint Master Plan street improvements paid by parking district (including interest).
  • Provide public parking in the White Flint area, built and operated by the expanded Parking District on a break-even basis. Reduce parking tax as the White Flint area matures and Parking District revenues grow to cover operations, maintenance, and debt service.  

Comments on this idea are welcome.

Ben Ross

Ben Ross

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