Green and Greener

Baltimore city has been the benefactor of its fair share of historic structure tax credits in the past because of the density of older buildings. Other parts of the state now have more of an opportunity for revitalization with the expansion of tax credits to qualified non-historic commercial structures. Mark Peters, photographer.

By Jennifer Pullinger

Anti-sprawl sentiment is nothing new in Maryland, but with the passage of legislation in May, the General Assembly has found a way to incentivize reinvestment in the state’s existing infrastructure and communities where people already live and work.

Known as the Sustainable Communities Act of 2010, the new program provides tax credits for the renovation of historic structures just like its predecessor, the Maryland Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program. What sets it apart is the extension of those incentives to non-historic structures, a move aimed at enticing owners and developers to give a new lease on life to existing buildings that hold value for the broader community.

“They are trying to encourage people to build more in centers,” says Anne Hicks, AIA, Sustainability Director for Ayers/ Saint/Gross.The bill will award up to $10 million dollars in tax credits in the 2011 fiscal year, with up to 40 percent of that total going to projects involving rehabilitation of non-historic structures in Main Street commercial districts, Base Realignment and Closure and Transit- Oriented Development zones, and other established areas. Non-historic commercial structures located in these target areas are eligible to receive 10 percent of the costs of rehabilitation, while historic residential and commercial structures are eligible for a 20 percent credit, with a maximum $3 million dollar credit per project.

“If you look at some of the outlying areas, there are a lot of strip shopping centers that were done in the ‘50’s, and are not necessarily abandoned but become less desirable centers than the newer ones that are put further out,” says Chris Parts, AIA, LEED AP and Principal with Hord Coplan Macht.

The new program aims to “revitalize some of those development patterns, not just discard what was new and interesting at the time it was built, but to bring some life back,” he says. Hicks describes the program as “economically driven,” and judging by the numbers, there is a lot of data to support that notion—and its future success.

A 2009 Abell Foundation report said the previous Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit yielded an $8.50 return for every $1 spent by the state. Over the course of the program, 15,120 jobs were created, while more than $1.71 billion (in 2009 dollars) worth of completed commercial projects have contributed to Maryland’s economy.

The Sustainable Communities Act is also “one of the first” in the U.S. to tie Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards with historic preservation efforts, according to the Maryland Department of Planning. As such, it includes a 25 percent credit for historic structures that are LEED certified Gold and above. George Holback, AIA, LEED AP and Principal with Cho Benn Holback, says the green building incentive is “just an additional layer of help to developers to take the next step in improving their buildings in energy efficiency.”

Maryland’s Sustainable Communities Act aligns more closely with federal programs aimed at creating livable communities and better coordinating public investment in transit, housing, and the environment. “Between the tax credits and the energy improvements,” says Holback, “projects can improve as far as their bottom line and performance, which only attracts more development and more developers.”

Jennifer Pullinger is a freelance writer in Richmond, Virginia.

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