Sustainable Communities Act of 2010

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

A three-year, $50 million program proposed by the O’Malley administration would award tax credits for transit-oriented development, the renovation of eligible Main Street districts such as Berlin, as well as other types of non-historic commercial revitalization to encourage communities to promote sustainable living.

The Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 calls for the authorization of a tax credit, improvements to the Community Legacy and Designated Neighborhood programs, and changes to the governor’s Smart Growth cabinet. The act calls for broadening the 14-year-old Heritage Tax Credit program as the Sustainable Communities Tax Credit to help stimulate local economies, create construction jobs and support ecologically friendly development. The Maryland Historic Tax Credit Program is well established as a key element in downtown areas and older communities throughout the state.

State officials say the upgraded program will attract and sustain private investment in revitalization areas and projects, preserve the authentic historic character of Maryland communities, advance green and sustainable development practices, and streamline and align government programs and resources. The previous program was restricted to historic properties. The proposal asks that up to 40 percent of the credits be made available to people where they live and work. Revitalized Main Streets and attractive storefronts are vital to the public health of any community and for the cash registers of small business owners.

Although not traditionally thought of as a job stimulus, most work done for historic renovation is labor-intensive. According to a recent study, every dollar of rehabilitation tax credit generates $8.53 in economic activity and each million dollars in tax credits conservatively is estimated to put about 73 skilled trades people to work on labor-intensive projects in the construction industry.

Based on previous successes with the old program, state planning officials say the new program can be expected to leverage more than 3,600 jobs over the next three years without impact to the 2011 and 2012 State operating budgets, adding that because eligible projects will be approved more quickly, developers and contractors will be able to expedite the hiring process.

Credit certificates will be given to projects that are considered exceptional based on criteria developed with the governor’s Smart Growth sub-cabinet. Developers will receive a credit certificate to secure funding for their projects.

The bill also calls for cooperation among state agencies, including Planning, Transportation, Housing and Community Development, and Business and Economic Development. The Energy Administration is involved to tie historic renovation to green building standards, making it one of the first programs in the country to do so. Bringing in experts on health, labor and energy will help us sharpen the focus on sustainable communities, says Richard Hall, Maryland’s Secretary of Planning.

The proposed Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 would put Maryland in line with federal changes that focus on improved coordination of transportation, environmental protection and housing investments. A new partnership between the Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency was announced by the Obama administration last year.

A Sustainable Community is one that encourages good health and reflects the concept that economic, environmental, and social issues are interdependent and that regions, cities, towns and rural lands must continue into the future without harming the natural resources that support them. Housing, transportation and resource conservation are managed in ways that retain the economic, ecological and scenic values of the environment. These are also communities where the use of fossil fuels, emissions of greenhouse gases, water resources and pollution are lessened.

Reinforcing sustainable communities and making existing towns and cities more attractive for future growth, rural, cultural and historic resources will be better preserved, local economies will be stronger and the state will gain more efficient and economical use of its investments in existing infrastructure such as roads and schools.

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