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Mayor's Report for July/August 2002

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§ A Day of Town Planning

Town Center Closer to Becoming a Thriving Business Area

By Mayor Michael Herman

On June 17, the Town Council ratified an historic contract between the Town and Douglas Development Corporation for the sale of the eight vacant buildings in the Town Center. Final sale is scheduled for June 28. Under the provisions of the contract, Douglas Development Corporation will purchase the buildings for $300,000, slightly more than the price the town paid for them a year ago. The developer is now required to immediately apply for building permits before the restoration can begin. It must also obtain building design approval from the Maryland Historical Trust which is pending and may come any day now. The construction phase will take only six months after the permits are approved. The town placed economic disincentives in the contract to prevent any delay by the developer.

This is the next crucial and exciting step in bringing this project to fruition. The buildings have been mostly vacant for the past two decades. The goal is to restore these properties and the Town Center area to a time long forgotten. Photos from the 1920s show a bustling area of commerce, something we hope will be achieved through the redevelopment. Through hard work and dedication by the town council, town staff and a citizen advisory committee, within the past eighteen months, the town negotiated acquisition of the buildings from the former owner, developed a set of design criteria, placed restrictive covenants on the land to prevent undesirable businesses, held a competitive process for redevelopment companies, applied for and received a state redevelopment grant for $300,000, and negotiated a sale to a suitable and highly qualified developer with experience in our community. It has been an intensive and rewarding process. By next spring, we expect there will be businesses occupying these now vacant and decaying buildings.

Since the redeveloper will be reimbursing the town all acquisition costs, I had proposed that the $300,000 Community Legacy Grant be used as seed money for an economic development trust fund that can be used in the Town Center area and in other commercial corridors throughout town. As of the time of this article, the Town Council had not yet passed the budget, which is due to be completed by June 30. It is my sincere hope that these funds will not be used to cover operating expenses in the next fiscal year since this is a one-time windfall to the town and should be used for redevelopment purposes only.

I want to thank all of the people that helped bring this project about, including the town council and former administration who had the vision to adopt new legislation four years ago to grant authority to the town to take blighted properties for urban renewal. This authority will allow the town to take on other projects where the cost of vacant buildings is within the town's ability to pay for them from its limited resources. Let this be the first of many projects where the Town can bring greater economic benefit to taxpayers through taking poor performing properties and turning them into viable businesses.

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