OCEAN CITY – The town is looking to join a state initiative to help strengthen reinvestment and promote revitalization in the downtown area by becoming a “Sustainable Community.”
According to the State of Maryland, Sustainable Communities seek to conserve resources; provide green spaces and parks for recreation and agriculture; offer many options for transportation; use natural and cultural resources wisely for future generations; and consider the social and economic needs of all residents.
In 2010, Gov. O’Malley signed into law Smart, Green & Growing legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly to enhance the future of growth, development and sustainability in Maryland. This law established the “Sustainable Communities” designation in order to strengthen reinvestment and revitalization in Maryland’s older communities.
The Sustainable Communities law enhanced an existing rehabilitation tax credit into the Sustainable Communities Tax Credit Program. It also simplified the framework for designated revitalization target areas in the Community Legacy and Neighborhood Business Works programs, establishing a new transportation focus on older communities and enhancing the role of the Smart Growth Subcabinet in the revitalization of communities.
Earlier this month, Planning and Community Development Director Matt Margotta presented the Mayor and Council with a draft of Ocean City’s Sustainable Community Application and Plan to be adopted by resolution if approved.
Margotta explained the Sustainable Community Plan is an update to the existing Community Legacy Plan and Main Street Program that designates the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) area of downtown Ocean City from 15th Street to the Inlet for certain policies, programs, projects and other initiatives and as a Priority Funding Area under Maryland codes.
“We already have a Community Legacy Plan and a Main Street Program, well the State of Maryland conducted a report back in January of 2010 and one of the recommendations was that local jurisdictions include plans with a range of revitalization or strategy’s and projects to address or reverse decline, or certainly reverse disinvestment in the community,” Margotta said. “So the idea was to take those priority funding component areas that were already established through various programs of the Community Legacy and Capital Main Street programs and bring them all under one roof as the Sustainable Community Plan.”
The draft and application process behind Ocean City’s Sustainable Community Plan is collaboration between OCDC and city staff with OCDC in the position to implement the plan.
“What this does for us, there are other communities out there that are not designated as a Sustainable Community … with two jurisdictions going for the same amount of money we would qualify better, having a comprehensive plan alone will not accomplish that so this is an important step for us,” Margotta said.
The draft was presented in a public meeting on April 24 and on May 7 to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which passed a favorable recommendation to the council to approve.
Last week the plan returned to the Mayor and Council in form of a resolution to designate the OCDC boundaries and former Community Legacy District as a Sustainable Community.
Councilman Dennis Dare felt the subject of a tax differential should be more prominent in the 59-page draft of the plan and asked for the draft to be amended to reflect such.
Margotta pointed out under Section II (a) where it asks to list and describe any significant state and local smart growth or revitalization related program investments that have been invested in the area since the launching of Maryland’s Smart Growth initiative and programs in 1997.
Margotta has included a paragraph stating, “It is worthy to note that OCDC receives local jurisdiction funding annually from Worcester County and the Town of Ocean City to assist with operating funds and provide seed money for matching grants. The completed, ongoing and future projects funded by OCDC strive to improve the community and encourage re investment. OCDC, in coordination with the Town of Ocean City, throughout its history has planned for, applied and managed grant and other funding to accomplish these needed projects. However, while these projects improve the community and raise the tax assessment on the properties, Worcester County receives an increased benefit without further engagement of resources. This sets up a tax differential where Worcester County reaps increased financial benefits and has yet to increase their participation in OCDC projects.”
Dare felt a tax differential should be more prominent throughout the draft, and used the next section under “Sustainable Baseline Information”, where it asks for existing barriers to Smart Growth that may affect the jurisdiction or the proposed Sustainable Community.
Margotta offered to work with Dare individually and the motion to pass the Resolution was withdrawn and the council agreed to table it until tax differential was incorporated.
The proposed plan can be found on the town’s website, www.oceancitymd.gov, under the Planning and Zoning Department.