City of Westminster nets state designation as 'sustainable community'

Approval allows city to pursue tax credits, state revitalization programs

November 12, 2011

WESTMINSTER — The City of Westminster was one of five Maryland community cited this week as a "sustainable community" by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and the state Department of Planning.

Planning Secretary Richard Hall said the designation of Westminster, Aberdeen, Cumberland, Hyattsville and Laurel comes under the state's Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 — and triggers the city's potential to apply for state tax incentives and support programs.

Hall, who chairs Gov. Martin O'Malley's Smart Growth Subcabinet, said Westminster and the other four communities, "are demonstrating their commitment to sustainable communities: sound environmental protection, strong local character and sense of community, solid economic development and innovative housing and development strategy."

The Sustainable Community designation reflects that a municipality has identified a specific area in need of revitalization, and has created a strategy to encourage and guide local investment.

Westminster was specifically noted for a proposal calling for a connection of parks and open space with a system of trails, pedestrian pathways and bike routes, and for the city's efforts to continue an upgrade to water and waste water treatment plants.

In addition, the city proposes to implement business development strategies, facade improvements and a neighborhood beautification plan, and complete a series small-scale affordable and market rate housing projects.

"Existing communities in rural, suburban and urban areas are smart places to grow and focus scarce local and state resources for revitalization," said Raymond Skinner, secretary of the state's Department of Housing and Community Development, in a statement about the five designated areas. "The Sustainable Communities program aims at helping existing communities, such as the five announced today, to create clear action plans for revitalization."

As per the 2010 Sustainable Communities Act, receiving this designation is required for communities to receive help from the state's Community Legacy and Neighborhood BusinessWorks programs.

The Community Legacy program can provide funding for projects such as business retention and attraction, encouraging homeownership and commercial revitalization. Neighborhood BusinessWorks is a loan program that provides financing for new or expanding small businesses and nonprofits.

Other programs that can be tapped with the Sustainable Communities designation include a state sidewalk retrofit program and job creation tax credits.

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