Fast Trees, Slow PILOT

Dear Readers,
It’s amazing what they can accomplish in seven minutes! And how they can spin their wheels for forty.
The council quickly dealt with tree issues March 7 just to show how fast they could do it. These are the remaining issues after months of discussing and revising the city’s tree ordinances.
In a nutshell (!) they will allow communities a choice of “street-trees,” give credit for pre-planting trees, and require disclosure of the city’s tree ordinances to new home-buyers. These were not final votes, only an indication of what councilmembers favored.

They favored giving residents a choice of varieties when the city plants “street-trees.” “Street-trees” are public trees planted in the right-of-way between sidewalk and street. The choice will be between two tree species, as the city buys trees in bulk lots.
The council also favored giving residents who apply for a permit to cut down a (healthy) tree credit for pre-planting replacement trees. The ordinances require that people who take down trees pay for a certain number of saplings be planted somewhere in the city. This replaces (eventually) the loss of tree canopy.
The council agreed to a formula for calculating the increasing worth of pre-planted trees as they gain girth. So, if somebody knows they will want to take down a tree in their yard, they can plant replacement trees beforehand, then when the older tree comes down, get a credit based on the current girth of the young trees
It took them only seven minutes to do all that, and then they lurched off course.
The council discussed PILOTs. These are tax exemptions that the city can grant certain developers. Those are developers who offer affordable housing and are some kind of private/public partnership. They call these exemptions Payment In Lieu of Taxes, event though there is no payment in lieu. It’s more like payment down the loo. There are no payments, no tax revenue, not even a back-rub.
Last year on some days the council almost had to wade through a crowd of PILOT supplicants to get to their seats. They became alarmed at how much they were giving away – and at a time of budget cuts.
So, at the March 7 meeting they discussed the various options they suggested last year: writing a PILOT policy, declaring a moratorium on PILOTS until tax revenues regained strength, or continuing to consider requests case by case.
To cut to the chase they tended to favor continuing case-by-case consideration In other words, nothing has changed
In Your Gilbert’s opinion, this has been the council’s pattern on PILOTs. They grouse and threaten, then after they cool down, they stick with the status quo. Several times last year the council harangued PILOT supplicants and threatened to deny or sharply reduce the amounts asked for. But, when the item came up for a vote a week or two later, the worst threats were not carried out. Oh, there were reductions, all right, but not as fierce as the ones they suggested when their grump was up.
But, that’s not what slowed them down. When somebody suggested that maybe giving exemptions to public housing projects could replace rent control as the city’s affordable housing policy, the conversation veered into an oil slick where the wheels spun faster and faster, but didn’t get anywhere.
EVERYBODY had something, or several somethings, to say about rent control and affordable housing. After a long session of disagreements and statistics duels, FINALLY somebody pointedly said “Is this an affordable housing discussion?” and they steered back to the cruising lane.
Watch out, though, said city Housing and Community Development director Sara Daines, there’s a big PILOT request coming up March 14. and they’ve got us over a barrel. To meet state requirements, they are required to have a PILOT from a local jurisdiction. The state has stopped giving PILOTS – tossing it to the municipalities and counties. So, if we don’t give them what they ask for next week, their project collapses, or so they say.
Stay tuned!

– Gilbert

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

2 Comments on "Fast Trees, Slow PILOT"

  1. William Bell | March 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm |

    There are no published rules governing grant of these PILOT thingies?!
    Is there a readily-accessible public record of who has received PILOT exemptions to date, the value of each exemption (i.e., the amount of the tax loss), and an official explanation in each case of why applicant was deemed worthy?

  2. These issues did come up and they may yet again before the council is done discussing it.
    One problem they cited in establishing rules is that each case differs, so it makes comparisons difficult.
    There are records available: “There are currently seven PILOT agreements in effect in Takoma Park. They range in value from $4,450 to $23,857, in FY12 with an average value of $8,700 per rental facility or $26.50 per rental unit. The aggregated value of these PILOTS is $61,195.”
    That’s from the handout for last week’s session
    Meeting minutes would show the reasoning behind each decision.
    Note that all of these PILOTs assist the development of buildings that are in substandard shape. They are not all public-housing – only a percentage. So, the city considers these to be a long term investment which will raise property values of those buildings and the surrounding community. And that means a future increase of tax revenue.

Comments are closed.