Easier path to be green

County looks at tax credit for environmentally friendly building

October 21, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

A green building tax credit for businesses that construct or renovate their commercial or industrial properties with environmentally friendly features could be included in the legislative package the Carroll County commissioners ask state legislators to pass during the next General Assembly session.

Carroll County's proposal comes as several area jurisdictions, including Howard, Montgomery and Baltimore City and County, are enacting green building standards.

While Howard County will require that any proposed commercial building of 50,000 square feet or more obtain certification through the U.S. Green Building Council, Carroll officials said they would keep these environmental goals optional.

"It's an encouragement versus a mandate," Carroll economic development director Lawrence F. Twele said. "As we strive to increase the industrial base, we certainly realize the positive impact of sustainable development."

Twele's department requested the tax credit for non-residential property owners who invest in water conservation devices, recycled materials and renewable or more efficient power sources for their properties, County Attorney Kimberly L. Millender said.

Specific details on how the property tax credit would be administered won't be developed until the General Assembly grants the county commissioners authority to pass a related local bill, Millender said.

To receive the tax credit, commercial properties would likely have to meet standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. Developers pay for this environmental design certification, which involves a lengthy evaluation process.

When Howard County's green building legislation goes into effect in July, developers who refuse to obtain the environmental design certification on new buildings of 50,000 square feet or more will face fines.

None of the three environmentally friendly government buildings currently being constructed in Carroll County applied for the environmental design certification, officials said.

Once complete, the Finksburg branch library, Ebb Valley Elementary School in Manchester and the new South Carroll Senior Center will all have energy-efficient geothermal systems, which use the earth's core temperature to heat buildings during winter and cool them during summer.

Obtaining official green building certification on the Finksburg library project would cost the county about $23,000 - a cost leaders chose to forgo - said Thomas J. Rio, chief of the county's bureau of building construction.

A $20 million commercial project in South Carroll, called Main Street Eldersburg, will become the state's first environmental design-certified shopping center when it opens in fall 2008, officials from the U.S. Green Building Council have said.

Owings Mills-based Black Oak Associates, the developers of Main Street Eldersburg, received a construction grant of nearly $500,000 from the Maryland Energy Administration's $25 million state green building tax credit program. That tax credit program, which has since been exhausted, would require additional funding from the General Assembly.

Mark Renbaum, director of development for Black Oak Associates, said the company is paying a premium of 2 percent to 4 percent to gain green certification on the project.

"We have an eye to the long term," Renbaum said. "We're building value for our investors and our tenants."

As the town of Mount Airy rebuilds in the wake of its Sept. 2 downtown fire, environmentally friendly construction methods will be encouraged, Mayor Frank M. Johnson said. Such tax credits could offer incentives for green rebuilding, he said.

Carroll County's delegation also leans toward supporting tax credit proposals, said Johnson, who by day works as the director of legislative services for the Carroll County Attorney's Office.

"The state legislature tends to be very cautious about tax credits," Johnson said. "But the delegation is friendly to tax credit legislation. I don't see it being controversial."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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