The Calvert County Board of Commissioners approved a measure intended to retain the county’s sustainable communities designation, which allows select areas to receive funding for projects that support strategies for community development, revitalization and sustainability.
The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development administers the Sustainable Communities Program, which allocates for the distribution of resources, such as financing programs and tax incentives for businesses, nonprofits, counties and towns in targeted revitalization investment areas. Calvert County is up for designation renewal.
“This designation examines six major focus areas, including environment, economy, transportation, housing, quality of life, local planning and land use,” Deputy Director of Planning Britany Waddell said before the commissioners Feb 5.
County long-range planner Jenny Plummer-Welker said North Beach, Dunkirk, Lusby and Solomons as well as parts of Chesapeake Beach and Prince Frederick were designated as Sustainable Community Areas in 2013.
“When we submitted the application years ago, we asked for each of the town centers, Huntingtown, Owings and St. Leonard to be included, along with all of our industrially zoned land. However, the Department of Housing and Community Development sad ‘that is too many places. We’d like you to narrow the focus,’” Plummer-Welker said, noting only town centers with public water and sewer or private sewer and the municipalities were included.
Plummer-Welker said the other areas can be requested to included in the future.
The prerequisite for participating in the program is that the area is a priority funding area, designated by county government to receive state-directed funds to spur development and economic growth.
Through the program, DCHD, Department of Transportation and Department of the Environment offer a variety of financing programs. If the county’s renewal application is approved, those sustainable community areas will have the opportunity to apply for DHCD’s Community Legacy Program, which provides local governments and community development organizations funding for business retention and attraction, homeownership and commercial revitalization. Eligible projects include mixed-use development consisting of residential, commercial and open space, and others.
The state also offers a Strategic Demolition Fund, which provides grants and loans to local governments and community development organizations for predevelopment activities, including demolition and land assembly for housing and revitalization projects. The focus is on smart growth projects that have a high economic and revitalization impact in their existing communities.
DHCD also offers Operating Assistance Grants and the Maryland Mortgage Program. For a limited time, a .25 percent discount on the standard Maryland Mortgage Program mortgage rate and $5,000 in down payment assistance is offered to qualified homebuyers who have at least $25,000 in student debt and are purchasing a home within a sustainable community area. The Neighborhood BusinessWorks Program, a DHCD loan program, provides gap financing to new or expanding small businesses and nonprofit organizations located in priority funding areas that generate street-level activity in mixed-use projects and improve either a vacant or under-utilized building or site.
MDOT offerings include the Maryland Bikeways, Community Safety and Enhancement and Sidewalk Retrofit programs. In sustainable areas 100 percent funding is provided for retrofit projects. Priority funding areas only receive 50 percent of costs.
“If Huntingtown High School got put into priority funding, would it be eligible for sidewalks, even along the state road and all?” Commissioner Mike Hart (R) asked, to which Plummer-Welker said yes.
The long-range planner said they looked at the Capital Improvement Plan for the next five years and worked with their counterparts in North Beach and Chesapeake Beach for their programs over the same period.
The county commissioners green-lighted the effort and authorized Commissioners’ President Thomas “Tim” Hutchins (R) to sign the letter approving the application for submission to the state.
“Applications are reviewed by an inter-agency review team and approved by the Smart Growth Subcabinet. The length of time to review applications can vary; however, on average it takes approximately three months,” DHCD Director of Public Information Owen McEvoy informed The Calvert Recorder.
McEvoy said applications are not scored on a point system, but are reviewed for and approved based on clarity and connectivity between community strengths and challenges and desired outcomes identified in the application.
He said applications for renewal should be submitted on or before the designation sunset date, but local governments may submit a letter of intent to apply, which gives local governments additional time to submit their completed application for renewal.