Assembly may OK renovation codes

House, Senate pass legislation in line with Smart Growth

March 25, 2000|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Renovating older buildings and developing homes and businesses in established neighborhoods would become easier under legislation approved yesterday by the House of Delegates.

Two companion measures, which have cleared the Senate in slightly different form, appear likely to win final passage in the General Assembly, which would boost Gov. Parris N. Glendening's 3-year-old Smart Growth campaign to curb suburban sprawl.

The bills would establish what the governor calls Smart Codes, statewide standards for renovating buildings and developing vacant lots.

"If we can use and reuse our existing structures, it will relieve the pressure of having to build out in green fields somewhere," said John W. Frece, the governor's special assistant for Smart Growth.

The legislation grew out of complaints by developers that local building codes often discourage them from building or rebuilding in established communities.

The legislation also won backing from municipal officials and from normally anti-development environmental activists, who see it as a way to prevent the conversion of farms and forests to homes.

The more significant of the two bills, supporters say, is the rehabilitation code, which would replace various county and municipal regulations with a single set of building rules. It is modeled on a law recently adopted in New Jersey, where it reportedly has sparked a renovation boom.

"This actually streamlines rehabilitation so it makes sense, so that small jobs do not suddenly become big jobs and unaffordable," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, an anti-sprawl group.

The bill would require the state to develop a model rehab code by the end of the year, with a 19-member advisory council created to monitor its effectiveness.

While not required to adopt the code verbatim, localities that don't will not be eligible to receive some state funding, such as neighborhood conservation or Rural Legacy grants.

County officials, who jealously guard their autonomy on zoning issues, at first objected to the governor's insistence that they adopt the code without change. They have since decided it would be worth it to get the millions of dollars in additional state funding Glendening has proposed to disperse as a reward.

The other bill would require the state planning office to draft model codes for building on vacant or underutilized land and for developing larger projects that blend housing, businesses and open space.

Counties, cities and towns that adopt the model development codes would also be eligible for additional state funds.

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