State spends to slow sprawl $46 million program targets aging suburbs, older neighborhoods

July 10, 1996|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Hoping to slow runaway suburban sprawl, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday the state will spend more than $46 million to spruce up decaying commercial districts and help families buy homes in older neighborhoods.

The governor announced $40 million in low-interest mortgage loans for more than 500 borrowers -- including funds solely for home sales in older neighborhoods in Baltimore County and other aging suburbs.

"Targeting parts of the state fosters smart growth, instead of encouraging creeping sprawl that eats up open space," Glendening said.

To lure middle-income residents, the state's Maryland Mortgage Program -- for the first time -- will allow counties to boost the eligibility limits. That will extend the program to borrowers with higher incomes and allow them to buy more expensive houses.

Meanwhile, a separate program earmarks $6.2 million to improve pedestrian access and enhance streetscapes in Reisterstown, Brooklyn Park, Cambridge and Chillum in Prince George's County.

The money comes from $72 million added to the state Department of Transportation's construction budget specifically for neighborhood conservation in the next six years.

"This is just wonderful," Carolyn B. Eichler, co-owner of Bransfield Motor Co. in the heart of Reisterstown, said of the $1.8 million resurfacing and curb, gutter and sidewalk improvements planned to Route 140, from Chartley Drive to Route 30.

"I've been there since 1948. Those are the same sidewalks I walked to school on. And they looked the same way then."

The loans and road funds are the first efforts announced since the governor called last month for stronger controls on sprawl, warning that unchecked suburban growth threatens farmland and forests, and leaves older areas to decay. Glendening said he will continue using such incentives to help localities manage growth.

Some localities have begun working with the state to set a course of reinvesting in established areas.

For instance, under a pilot program that began in Baltimore County this month, homebuyers in Hillendale over the next three years will get a 40 percent reduction in property taxes and a matching reduction in state income taxes. State and local officials also worked closely to create an enterprise zone offering tax breaks to businesses -- part of an ambitious plan to revitalize the county's Eastside.

Glendening said yesterday that the state has redirected its mortgage program by encouraging counties to distribute loans in older -- but not necessarily low-income -- neighborhoods.

Counties are not required to focus loans in established areas. But Baltimore and St. Mary's counties have agreed to restrict their loans to certain older neighborhoods.

In Baltimore County, that covers 33 communities, including Anneslie, Arbutus, Catonsville, Fullerton, Lutherville, Rodgers Forge and Towson.

In another departure from the normal guidelines, seven localities have chosen to raise income and price eligibility limits.

For instance, in Baltimore County, a one- or two-person household earning up to $67,200 can buy an existing home for up to $171,886 and a new home for up to $192,898 in targeted areas. Normally, a one-person household can earn no more than $44,800 and buy a house costing no more than $110,000 to qualify for a state loan.

Borrowers can get 30-year, fixed-rate loans through local lenders at rates of 6.75 percent or 7.5 percent, depending on income levels. By contrast, market rate loans averaged 8.29 percent in the Baltimore region as of Friday, with analysts expecting higher rates by the end of the week.

Applicants must be first-time homebuyers, except in the targeted areas.

State officials don't expect the mortgage money to last long.

"We would expect it really to be used in 90 days because of the need and the rates," said Ray Skinner, deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The state loan program gave Annapolis resident Karen Simms, who had lived in public housing for 25 years, her first chance at homeownership.

Each year, she had watched her pay raises disappear into rent increases.

But in February, Simms, a records specialist at the Maryland House of Correction, and her daughter, Lucrecia, a Head Start teacher, bought a house in Parole.

"It has changed my life tremendously," she said. "There is nothing like owning your own home."

Responding to the road projects planned for next spring, residents and business owners said they expected improvements to help recapture lost business and lure homebuyers.

Projects include $1.3 million to convert Route 2 from Ninth Avenue to the Baltimore line from six lanes to four lanes, with a landscaped median, left turn lanes and new sidewalks. Another $1.3 million is allocated for road resurfacing and drainage, curb, gutter and sidewalk improvements to Route 343 in Cambridge's central business district.

The state allocated $1.8 million for Route 211 in Chillum, from Route 212 to the Washington line, for widening and resurfacing, curb, gutter and streetscape improvements.

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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