SALISBURY — Wicomico officials last week approved a payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) program for a vast affordable housing project in the county after getting assurances from the new owners certain conditions would be met in the final agreement.
Last Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council approved an agreement with Tryko Partners on a PILOT program for the company’s Pine Bluff Village project, a vast affordable housing community of 151 homes for the elderly and disabled in the county along with associated amenities including an on-site community service coordinator, food services, laundry services and other features. The village is proposed on the former Pine Bluff Sanatorium owned by the state.
Last June, the Wicomico Council approved a PILOT agreement with the state continuing the lessee-operator agreement first reached in 2007. However, now that Tryko Partners is seeking to renovate and restore the former state-owned property with an attractive affordable housing project for the elderly and disabled, the company came before the Council seeking the same payment-in-lieu agreement offered by the state.
Before the council could consider the proposed PILOT program however, a few issues needed to be resolved, not the least of which was the future of Parcel D, a landlocked parcel in the center of the property not included in the housing project, which is the site of a former hospital on the property. In addition, there were other housekeeping issues to resolve including some of the vague language in the agreement.
“I would have to vote no on this right now because there seems to be so many questions still,” said Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich. “If I’m going to approve something, I want to know exactly what it is I’m approving.”
Councilman Bob Culver voted to table the discussion until those issues were resolved and the motion passed 4-3 with Council President Matt Holloway casting the deciding vote. However, Tryko officials implored the Council to approve the PILOT agreement in advance of the resolution of some of the housekeeping issues in order to meet their ambitious timetable for the project.
Councilwoman Sheree Sample-Hughes agreed the PILOT program could be approved without the minor changes and urged her colleagues not to table it again, but rather vote on it that day.
“I feel like this project is being delayed for multiple reasons,” she said. “We keep finding ways to delay this and that’s unfortunate because the people of this county really need this project.”
While everyone on the council agreed with the merits of the project, some were still concerned about the payment-in-lieu of taxes element because it would be the first in the county for an agency or company that was a non-profit.
“What I have a problem with is this is the first time we’re doing a PILOT program for a for-profit agency,” said Culver. “What can of worms are we opening up? This is $40,000 in property tax money for the county each year. That’s a sweet deal.”
Tryko attorney Robert Taylor agreed it was the first PILOT program of its kind in Wicomico, but said the chances of another applicant coming forward in the future were slim.
“This is a unique project for Wicomico and probably the first PILOT of its kind,” he said. “That being said, I can’t think of one other property in the county that could or would come before you seeking a PILOT such as this. The chance of this happening again is just about zero. There is not another situation in the county that would qualify.”
Councilwoman Stevie Prettyman said she was satisfied Tryko Partners would honor the terms of the PILOT program and said the agreement would prevent the company from changing course and attempting to do a different project on the Pine Bluffs site. Prettyman urged the Council to rescind the motion to table the discussion and made a motion to approve the PILOT agreement with the stipulation the appropriate changes in the verbiage would be made.
“Let’s not lose sight of what this is for,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to affordable housing for the elderly in our community. They’re not going to change the use. This locks them in for the next 20 years.”
However, Culver reiterated his concern about the groundbreaking PILOT program for the for-profit Tryko Partners.
“There is no doubt we need this type of housing, but this is the first PILOT we’ve done for a for-profit and I want to make sure we get it right,” he said. “We don’t get a second chance at this.”
With that said, Sample-Hughes made a motion to approve the agreement for Tryko on the Pine Bluffs affordable housing project, a motion that passed by a vote of 6-1 with Culver in dissent.
“This needs to move forward,” she said. “We’re just stalling. This county and the entire Eastern Shore has an aging population and this is needed.”