College Park approves tax break for once-ineligible student-housing project


Courtesy/Gilbane Development Co.

A rendering shows a sunset view of the proposed Northgate/Tempo student-housing complex planned for College Park's midtown Baltimore Avenue corridor.

After mistakenly granting, then revoking, a tax break for a student-housing project, College Park City Council narrowly approved a measure granting the project a reduced tax break anyway under a new waiver created for this specific situation.

In all, Gilbane Development Co.’s Tempo project on Baltimore Avenue in Berwyn is set to have their city property taxes cut by a maximum of $300,000 total over the next five years. The vote was close, with Mayor Patrick Wojahn casting the decisive vote to break a four-four tie during City Council’s April 13, 2021, meeting.

“I will again apologize to the residents on behalf of the city for making this mistake. But that said, this is a good development,” said Wojahn, noting the project is redeveloping properties that had been abandoned for years. “It’s a great addition to the community, and I appreciate Gilbane’s efforts in doing so. They did so, in part, relying on the tax credit we agreed to provide them a year ago.”

The Tempo project, already under construction, is a big one: 1,080 square feet of ground floor retail, 296 units and 800 beds in a multi-story student housing layout. Notable in the plans are a boardwark-and-asphalt trail connection from the apartment to link with the Paint Branch Trail along the eastern shores of Paint Branch, as well as the inclusion of 300 parking spaces in a first-and-second floor garage.

The project applied for a property tax cut from the city, called a Revitalization Tax Credit, in 2019. The application was processed by city staff, and unanimously approved by College Park City Council at its Jan. 14, 2020, meeting, with a total value of $571,000 over the five-year term of the credit. But student housing projects are ineligible for the tax credit program, a rule approved by City Council in 2015. Somehow, that discrepancy went unnoticed until June 2020, when city staff informed Gilbane officials that the tax credit was withdrawn because it was issued in error. In November 2020, Gilbane officials asked College Park to find a way to make them eligible for the tax credit.

At its March 9, 2021, meeting, a split College Park City Council approved a measure that allows the city to grant an otherwise-ineligible development project a Revitalization Tax Credit through a waiver, but only if city officials previously granted one to a specific development in error. The measure was approved by a vote of five to three, with City Councilors Fazlul Kabir, Maria Mackie and Denise Mitchell voting against. Councilors Katie Kennedy, Monroe Dennis, Llatetra Esters, Dennis Rigg, and Robert Day voted in favor. College Park mayors only vote to break ties, and Wojahn did not vote as a result.

The measure could have been more-expensive. While the revision allows City Council to re-grant the full-size of the original tax credit, worksession discussions revealed little support for that idea. The measure was introduced in the April 13, 2021, meeting at 75 percent of its original size. But Esters said during the meeting she would only vote to re-grant the tax cut if it was 50 percent of the original size. A motion from Rigg to reduce the package to Esters’ threshold passed by a vote of five to three, with Kabir, Mitchell and Mackie voting against.

The final vote saw Kabir, Dennis, Mitchell and Mackie voted against. Joined by Wojahn, Kennedy, Esters, Day, and Rigg voted in favor.

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