Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Celebrates Designation of Over 100 Sustainable Communities
With the recent designation of eight new Sustainable Communities, the program has reached a milestone — there are now over 100 Sustainable Communities across the state. Since 2010, the Sustainable Communities program, overseen by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, has provided local governments with a framework for promoting environmentally, economically and socially responsible growth and development in Maryland’s existing population centers.
But the program is about more than a label and a broad set of ideals. The Sustainable Communities program is based on a proven history of targeting investments in places with a detailed revitalization plan, specific geographies for investment, and stakeholders within the community who are committed to implementing the plan. As part of the program, local officials evaluate their own community’s strengths and weaknesses, identify implementation partners, and strive for tangible goals for the long-term vitality of the places many Marylanders live and work.
To help local governments achieve their goals, Sustainable Communities have access to various funding programs from a number of state agencies. These programs are aimed to promote the wellbeing of both residents and businesses through grants, loans and tax credits.
To date, the program has designated 103 Sustainable Communities. These communities comprise 102 municipalities and 60 unincorporated areas, since some Sustainable Communities contain more than one locality. While only 3.6 percent of Maryland’s landmass is located within designated Sustainable Communities, the department estimates these areas are home to 40 percent of Maryland’s small businesses. Over 80 percent of the cities and towns designated by the program have been incorporated for at least 100 years, and more than half of all Sustainable Communities contain a nationally designated historic district.
In November 2016, eight communities received the Sustainable Communities designation:
Town of Cecilton (Cecil County)
As Cecil County’s largest crossroads south of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, Cecilton is a charming town with extensive green infrastructure and a successful new Town Activities Center. Environmental sustainability has been a major priority for the town, which recently completed a subwatershed study funded by the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program and a Maryland Energy Administration-sponsored energy audit. Among its assets are the Town Park and bike lanes, the expansion of which Cecilton hopes can serve its goal of becoming an even greater regional destination for recreation. In addition to upgrades and repairs that make the park more multifunctional, the town will also pursue efforts to improve drainage ditch maintenance due to excess agricultural runoff and to expand its housing stock, especially for seniors. Pedestrian safety has been a challenge, so Cecilton intends to seek Safe Routes to School funding and respond to the heavy truck traffic detouring from Delaware’s stretch of U.S. Route 1. The town also aims to attract commercial opportunities to provide retail services and jobs for its residents, many of whom currently travel to nearby Elkton or across the state line to Middletown, Delaware, for their daily needs.
Town of Cheverly (Prince George’s County)
Just a couple of miles away from the Washington, D.C., border, the Town of Cheverly is a diverse community with convenient access to the District and other parts of Maryland via the WMATA Metrorail Orange Line, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, U.S. 50 and Maryland 202. These routes surround a cohesive and affordable residential community with rising property values and a healthy commercial and industrial base with low vacancy rates. Several park areas, streams and vegetative buffers define the town, which also has an extensive tree canopy. Cheverly’s revitalization priorities include reducing impervious surfaces to enhance the quality of stormwater runoff and implementing environmental site design in new construction and redevelopment projects. There will also be efforts to boost the already strong retail market by making aesthetic improvements to the town’s outdated commercial areas and expanding its shopping and dining offerings, such as a centrally-located coffeeshop. Upgrades are needed for Cheverly’s transit facilities, including its Metro station which currently has the system’s lowest daytime ridership. Rounding out the town’s plans are new community gathering spaces and events, as well as enhancements to bike and pedestrian connectivity inside Cheverly and with nearby trail networks.
Long Reach Village (Howard County)
One of the earlier villages to emerge from Columbia’s innovative mid-century master plan, Long Reach comprises a commercially-oriented village center and four residential neighborhoods. The village center area, which will be the primary target of Howard County’s redevelopment efforts, includes retail space as well as the Columbia Association’s Art Center and Stonehouse community center. Popular nearby recreational amenities, such as Blandair Park, Jackson Pond and a future indoor tennis facility, are complements to Long Reach’s trail network, community gardens, and the high school’s top-ranked environmental program. Revitalization strategies will promote new uses for the blighted village center, which is now largely county-owned, currently without an anchor store, and facing nearly 70 percent vacancy as recently as 2014. The county also plans to reduce impervious surfaces, employ better energy practices, improve its transit, bike and pedestrian networks, and develop more active public spaces. Homeowners in Long Reach would have access to programs for rehabilitation of older properties, and the county plans to investigate ways for the village to offer new housing units in response to the area’s high demand.
Town of Mardela Springs (Wicomico County)
The small town of Mardela Springs can be found along Barren Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River, providing it with navigable water access and plentiful acreage for recreation. Mardela Springs is also a haven for small businesses, such as the nation’s largest indoor coral farm, and a central component of the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Area, boasting the County’s Westside Historical Society and the Barren Creek Heritage Museum. The town recently submitted a Waterway Improvement Grant application to improve its boat ramp facility, which could expand to include a kayak launch by way of other funding mechanisms now available through Sustainable Communities. Mardela Springs will also look to revamp its streetscape by developing more sidewalks and ensuring its existing pedestrian network is ADA compliant. Drainage improvements will help overcome stormwater issues brought by curb and gutter deterioration, and new and improved commercial development will expand the tax base for the historic creekside town. Home repairs on the town’s abandoned and condemned properties would supplement Mardela Springs’ already affordable housing opportunities.
Town of New Market (Frederick County)
For more than 200 years, New Market has stood watch over one of the state’s most important corridors, connecting Baltimore with Frederick and points west. The town’s history can be seen in the storefronts of its historic Main Street corridor, the heart and soul of New Market and the focal point of many of its future plans. The roadway is currently undergoing major repair work, allowing for a fresh start to streetscaping in front of the town’s businesses. The town hopes to invigorate the business climate along Main Street by helping property owners renovate their downtown commercial spaces and storefronts to allow for new businesses to set up shop. To help these businesses thrive, New Market plans to better connect the Main Street with the rest of the town by refurbishing alleys, filling in sidewalk gaps, and creating a bike and pedestrian network map for the area. Furthermore, New Market wants to add to its park assets by creating a space downtown large enough for concerts, festivals, and other community events, including the celebration of its 225th anniversary, or quasquibicentennial, in 2017. The park, in addition to a new Town Hall set to open in the next few years, will help solidify New Market’s identity.
Town of Sharpsburg (Washington County)
On September 17, 1862, the farms and valleys surrounding Sharpsburg became one of the bloodiest battlefields in American history. While the fog of war has lifted since the Battle of Antietam that rattled this town more than 150 years ago, the past plays an especially strong role in the future of this small Washington County town. The historic downtown features several small businesses, including bed and breakfasts and a popular ice cream parlor. Sharpsburg hopes to draw in more bicycle tourism by connecting to the nearby C&O Canal and wants to help businesses by adding more off-street parking. But most of the town’s goals are focused on those who live in the community. These goals include attracting a few more businesses to serve Sharpsburg’s residents and creating a loan/grant program for homeowners to renovate their homes. They also want to consider the development of a community center, which can provide services for kids and adults alike, as well as a ridesharing program that can make it easier for town residents to get to nearby commercial centers like Hagerstown or to job centers in the Washington, D.C., region.
Town of Vienna (Dorchester County)
With a population of just 271, Vienna is the smallest municipality to be designated a Sustainable Community. But the town’s small size does not stop it from having big plans for revitalization. The town was founded in 1706 on the shores of the Nanticoke River, one of the wide streams that enters the Chesapeake Bay from the Eastern Shore. Once bisected by U.S. Highway 50, the road bypassed the town in the 1990s, saving the downtown from traffic but limiting commercial opportunities. Vienna is fortunate enough to own most of the town’s shoreline along the Nanticoke, property which is being developed into a park known as Emperor’s Landing. The park will help bring in visitors not just by car off of Ocean Gateway, but also by water through a new kayak ramp. Vienna wants to expand their retail portfolio by attracting a few small stores to the town in order to allow locals to shop without heading to other communities and create new jobs for residents. Other goals in the coming years for the town include expanding transit access to Salisbury and Cambridge, repairing sidewalks to provide safer routes to school, and starting a facade improvement program for local homeowners and businesses.
Town of Williamsport (Washington County)
When Otho Holland Williams settled a town at the site where the Conococheague Creek enters the Potomac River in 1787, he had a grand vision for his future community. Williamsport, as the town would become known, was one of the candidates to be the capital of the United States. The town did not end up becoming a seat of government, but its location along the C&O Canal, now a National Park, helped it to flourish throughout the 19th century. Williamsport plans to undertake streetscape and facade improvements in its historic downtown to make it a welcoming destination for new businesses, as well as add parking to make these shops more easily accessible. The beautification would include trees, bicycle racks, and street furniture such as benches. The town also plans to rehabilitate aging housing stock and add a community center to provide activities for the fast-growing population of the area.