ELKTON — A new developer is looking to breathe life into a stagnant project on Elkton’s south side, 13 years after Elkton officials signed a development deal that promised to change the town.
Elkton quietly started the process for amended zoning regulations for a planned unit development (PUD) as an unidentified developer is looking to break ground on 650 acres of land. That land runs south of U.S. Route 40 to Frenchtown Road, and west of Maloney Road to the Elk River, and once hoped to bring thousands of homes before the housing market crashed.
Although the deal is not done, the developer is reportedly looking to build 1,300 residences with eyes set for possible commercial and industrial use.
Development to the town’s south side has been stuck in neutral for a long time. Property owners Southside LLC first inked a deal with the town for water to 2,500 homes in 2006. Over time, plans shifted to PUD and asked the town to rezone some of the land R-3, or urban residential, in 2013 as a backup plan. Not much has been done with the land since.
Elkton officials declined to identify the prospective developer — or comment on the full scope of the project — to the Whig this week. But Planning Director Jeanne Minner hinted that the developer has a history of using industrial in its projects.
“They were successful with other PUDs that were a little more flexible … where it would allow light industrial use and job center-type of things,” Minner said during Monday’s town Planning Commission meeting.
In other communities across the nation PUD marries homes of different sizes with community features like recreation areas and some commercial use. These days, more developers are looking to build essentially a town within a town, like the long-term plan for the Bayberry community in Middletown, Del.
In the proposed PUD language, residential, commercial and industrial use would be permitted in Elkton’s south side if town officials approve it. The town does not have specific regulations for it, as the proposed language was shelved during the comprehensive rezoning in 2013.
Proposed zoning amendments would establish three tiers of permissible use within the PUD. Each tier would be dependent on the size of the land, almost like a subdivision, and all allow for residential.
The smallest parcels of land — below 25 acres — would only be used for residential. But moving up in size opens the possibility for additional uses. Between 25 and 100 acres would allow for light commercial use, like retail options. From 100 acres up, the land could be used for intense commercial use and industrial use.
The proposed zoning amendment would require 25% of the PUD to be reserved for open space. Half of that requirement could also include a developed park. In Southside’s case, that could leave the door open for 150 acres of open space for recreation, with 75 acres that could be a devoted park. Developers could not use 125 acres of wetlands to meet the open space requirement.
“The developers have talked about including a developed park,” Minner later confirmed.
This could mean Mayor Rob Alt’s dream of a grand sportsplex could be realized in part. For years, the mayor had marketed the land as a possible site for the largest sports complex in North America.
“It’s no secret what I was marketing this as and what I wanted to see,” Alt told the Whig on Wednesday. “If a recreation element were included, it would be absolutely wonderful for the community.”
The mayor stayed relatively quiet about the project, including possible tenants and job figures for the industrial parcel. Alt also pointed out that larger tracts of land would not have to be devoted to industrial use, it could be more residential or commercial space.
“It’s all speculation at this point, though,” he said.
Time is of the essence with developing the PUD in southern Elkton, as the land is designated both in enterprise and opportunity zones, federal programs that have a window that’s starting to close.
Businesses in an enterprise zone can claim a 10-year credit on local property taxes for some property improvements, starting at 80% and hitting the floor to 30% in the final year. Enterprise zone businesses can also claim one-year or three-year credits for wages paid to new employees in new positions, depending on certain factors.
Opportunity zones entice investors to infuse money into funds for prolonged periods of times to see tax breaks. Staying in an opportunity zone fund for at least five years could see 10% of the gain excluded from taxes, while 10 years results in tax-free gains.
Although Cecil County is accustomed to providing tax incentive packages to land projects, Alt said the town would not be offering any more to sweeten the deal other than what is already on the table.
Elkton has extended waivers for water and sewer connection fees as well as front-foot assessment costs until June 2022.
“This project is moving a lot faster than expected,” Alt said. “But more information will be coming about it soon.”
A final draft of the PUD zoning amendment is expected to be presented to the Elkton Board of Commissioners in August, with a vote scheduled the following month.