Historic district may get tax cuts

No-increase pledge, rebates proposed to spur restoration

April 11, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The city of Westminster is proposing tax rebates and a guarantee that taxes won't increase to encourage property owners in the historic district to restore their buildings or erect new ones to blend with the surroundings.

The proposed ordinances were introduced at last night's Common Council meeting.

Councilman Gregory Pecoraro said the financial incentives "play a very helpful role in our efforts to continue to urge the restoration and revitalization of the older part of the city."

The council will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. April 24 on the proposals, which have been in the works for about a year, said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works.

The measures would apply to properties that are listed with the National Register of Historic Places, have a certificate of significance from the Maryland Historical Trust, or are included in the local reference standard, "The Building of Westminster," by Christopher Weeks.

Restorations that cost more than $10,000 could qualify for a 10 percent tax credit, which could be carried over for five years if it were higher than the tax, he said. New buildings could qualify for a 5 percent credit. The property tax assessment freeze would apply to work costing more than $25,000 and would last for 10 years.

"This is so you will not be penalized for improvements," Beyard said of the credit and the assessment freeze. "You can do both. For example, if you get the tax credit, the state does the assessments, and we rebate any difference in the property tax. With the other, the idea is that there would be a grace period."

Also last night, a bill that would set standards for downtown window signs was introduced.

The measure would require that the owner apply for a permit and limit such signs to no more that 25 percent of the window.

Beyard said the city lacks a provision on this question, which arose after a Main Street pawnshop hung large plastic signs inside its show windows.

In other business, the council:

Approved a zoning change that will allow downtown churches, or similar institutions, to seek a special exception to build parking lots in residential areas. The Westminster Church of the Brethren and Grace Lutheran Church have such plans, which would require a public hearing and approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals under the new ordinance.

Set a schedule for adopting a budget for 2000-2001. The council will begin with a work session at 6 p.m. next Monday. A proposed budget would be introduced April 24, with a public hearing May 8 and adoption May 22.

Property taxes are not expected to increase, although there could be a change in water and sewer rates.

Voted to revise the option to purchase the old Carroll Theater at 91 W. Main St. by extending the timetable two months to June 15, for two independent appraisals. Plans call for the 70-year-old building to house the Carroll County Arts Council and serve as a local arts and performance theater.

The building is to be acquired with money from the county through the state's Program Open Space, based upon its appraised value, Beyard said. The Church of the Open Door is asking $310,000 for the property.

Discussed a proposal under which the city and Western Maryland College would equally share revenue from any cellular antennas installed on the city's water tank. The city's water tank, a feature of Westminster's skyline, is on college land.

"With the advent of the cellular phone business, we need a sidebar to the agreement," said Beyard. "Western Maryland College gave us a grant to use it for a water facility -- not to install antennas that would generate cash."

Approved a cable television franchise with Adelphia Prestige Cablevision LLC, which has been recommended by the county cable committee and requires approval by the county and towns. The agreement includes an increase in the fees Prestige will pay to the county and towns from 3 percent to 5 percent, amounting to about $45,000 for Westminster, Beyard said. Deciding how to use this money will be part of the budget process.

Heard from Beyard that the city has received a $51,230 grant from the State Highway Administration for sidewalks and retaining walls for the expansion of the Conaway parking lot from 100 to 200 spaces. The grant represents one-fourth of the cost.

Also last night, Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan announced the appointment of Roy Chiavacci to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission.

Chiavacci chairs the Greater Westminster Development Corp., is vice president for environmental and administrative services at Carroll Lutheran Village and a retired veteran of more than 26 years with the state police. He rose to the rank of captain and division commander, and headed the Security barracks in Baltimore County.

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