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Locality proffers tacked on projects

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Developers who build the behemoth real estate projects across the Washington area say they are paying for more of the infrastructure as cities and counties try to avoid the costs.

In Ashburn, Va., the One Loudoun project is headed toward an Oct. 1 target date to start construction on 358 acres of housing, retail and offices as developers and the county administration resolve the last issues for handling traffic.

The county wants developers Miller & Smith to build a highway interchange onto Route 7 and widen adjoining roads to handle increased traffic when the complex is completed in 2010.

Miller & Smith officials said they would build the interchange but want the county to resolve any land claims from nearby property owners.

Before the first building is erected, Miller & Smith expects to spend about $100 million on infrastructure proffers demanded by the county.

"Proffers get more demanding all the time," said Bill May, vice president of Tysons Corner-based Miller & Smith.

Proffers refer to required improvements from local governments before they will allow developers to build new projects. Typically, proffers require amenities or new infrastructure, such as roads, sewers and water systems.

In Loudoun County, the Washington region and the nation, local governments are struggling with their desire for more development but their difficulty paying for the infrastructure to support it.

As the death toll mounts from the Minneapolis bridge collapse last week, the federal government is joining inquiries about how to pay to maintain bridges, streets, sewers and other infrastructure.

Some city planners want wider use of proffers to make private developers relieve them of their financial burden.

Montgomery County used proffers to make Peterson Cos. improve streets and sidewalks for the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring.

Arlington County used them to demand more elevators at the Rosslyn Metro station for JBG Cos.' planned 1 million-square-foot Central Place project. The mixed-use project of offices, residences and retail is set for county approval by the end of this year.

Proffers were a major campaign issue last year that helped Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett get elected.

Mr. Leggett beat County Council member Steve Silverman in the Democratic primary by criticizing him for policies that he said supported unrestrained growth.

Mr. Silverman helped eliminate a rule in 2002 requiring developers to build new roads and other infrastructure along with projects likely to increase traffic. Mr. Leggett is trying to get the rule reinstated.

"It's a growing issue in the sense that many people feel the pendulum may have swung too far in not requiring that kind of thing," said Patrick Lacefield, Montgomery County spokesman. "We use [proffers] quite a bit."

Economic development planners say proffers are successful only in places where developers want to build. They also are only a partial solution to infrastructure needs.

After the infrastructure is built, local governments usually take over the operation and maintenance, placing another burden on their budgets.

"You still end up with gaps in your infrastructure," said Robyn Bailey, Loudoun County Department of Economic Development spokeswoman.

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstack@washingtontimes.com.

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