published in the June 25, 2014 Baltimore Sun
By Richard Eberhart Hall
Jacques Kelly’s recent column (“Movement to open more corner stores in Remington,” June 21), could serve as testimony for why the Baltimore City Council should not eliminate corner stores in the city zoning code. Healthy, vibrant communities need a mix of land uses that fit their scale and other characteristics. The corner store, a community fixture of the past, can fill a need throughout Baltimore and elsewhere.
As we’ve learned over and over again, older, organic development patterns are often preferable to those driven by auto-dependent design. This is especially important in a city like Baltimore, filled with many great historic neighborhoods, and at a time when revitalization and repopulation are no longer just a planner’s dream.
While not a new issue, the need to emphasize infill and redevelopment continues to increase as Maryland grows. Focusing on redevelopment improves quality of life by increasing access to jobs, shopping and services, and it boosts local economies.
Contrast that to development in faraway, undeveloped areas, where we see the high cost of new infrastructure and other public services and the loss of farm and forest land, which help protect the Chesapeake Bay.
We are projected to add 1 million new Marylanders and 500,000 homes in the next 25 years. To accommodate that growth, it’s imperative that we make infill and redevelopment the norm. Yet, while well intended, many of our rules, procedures, designs and financing mechanisms make infill harder and sprawl development simpler. We need to flip that on its head, making it easier to do the right thing. This will require everyone to work together: citizens, community advocates, developers, bankers and government at all levels.
Realizing how important a mix of land uses — like the ability to add a corner store to a residential neighborhood — can be to creating complete, livable communities, the Maryland Department of Planning added a new small commercial component to the state Sustainable Communities Tax Credit when the program was reauthorized during the 2014 General Assembly session. We were gratified that the General Assembly approved the small commercial program to make it easier for owners of mom-and-pop businesses to get financial help for renovating their historic structures. For two decades, we’ve found that historic renovation has a positive spin-off effect in communities. When a great old building is renovated and reused, good things tend to follow.
My agency also is involved in two initiatives now underway that address ways to accelerate redevelopment. The first is a joint effort between the Urban Land Institute and the National Trust for Historic Preservation that focuses on reuse of older buildings. Following a successful pilot project in Los Angeles, the Partnership for Building Reuse seeks to convert older buildings into new successful uses in Baltimore and Philadelphia. The project has involved many meetings with architects, developers, planners, historic preservation practitioners and others to identify ways to overcome barriers and spur development of vacant structures, of which Baltimore has many.
There are obvious environmental, economic and social benefits to retaining and recycling existing buildings. Yet, we see so many buildings abandoned and, in some cases, demolished. Instead, we want to build on some great local examples — the Miller’s Court project in Remington, the Proctor & Gamble Tide Point soap factory that became Under Armour’s headquarters and the American Can Company in Canton among them — of how older buildings can be repurposed to meet new market needs and spark community revitalization. A project action plan is forthcoming later this year.
The second project is in response to a request by Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission, which my agencystaffs, to undertake an initiative to advance infill, redevelopment and revitalization statewide. The commission, aided by MDP, staff from other state smart growth agencies, developers and other stakeholders, is reviewing federal, state and local programs and analyzing the practices of many Maryland communities to gain insight into the best ways to create vibrant places with a range of housing, employment and transportation options.
Redevelopment provides environmental benefits by reinvesting in buildings and infrastructure, focusing growth where services exist rather than creating new development on tracts far from population centers. People know it when they see it: downtowns bustling with activities and special events, a variety of housing types near places of employment, wide sidewalks that beckon to pedestrians and well-tended storefronts. Recommendations are due at summer’s end. Visit our I/R/R website to learn more and provide input through our online survey.
Smart growth is about protecting our forest and farm land and well-planned development. It is the yin and yang — you must have them together. Many of the smart growth debates of late have been about development we don’t want, we now need to focus more on the kind of development we do want.
Richard Eberhart Hall is secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning.