Catonsville one of Baltimore County's three sustainable communities

Being named one of three sustainable communities in Baltimore County by the state of Maryland has opened the door for Catonsville to receive state funds for revitalization projects in the area.

Since being named a sustainable community, the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Committee is taking a look at projects under discussion for months, but have not had the funds to begin.

"There is the whole issue that we've been discussing for over a year now, with the facade on the south side of the business district in Paradise," said committee co-chairman Scott Graham. "We're looking at doing a treescape project."

"Our dilemma is we need to right-size those trees," he said. "They're up to the power line and they shadow the businesses.

"It's hard to tell what the businesses are because you can't see their signs," Graham said. "We need to involve the owner of those properties...and try to engage them in working with us on those facades, and maybe get some of the (state) redevelopment money to help them do that."

Graham said the new funding opportunities could also give the group a chance to revisit the intersection at Bloomsbury Avenue and Ingleside Avenue. It is currently listed as "failing" according to Baltimore County regulations and, as such, no revitalization work can be done in the area surrounding that intersection.

"I think if we got the flexibility to actually work on those projects in the village (near that intersection), the state funding, my fondest dream, is that it would go to some of those projects," he said. "We're going to continue to look at it and these funds give us some hope."

The state funding comes as a result of the 2010 Sustainable Communities Act, passed on April 2 of that year by the Maryland General Assembly, which authorizes the state to help fund projects to revitalize the area.

"We wanted local governments to take a fresh look at their communities in need of revitalization resources," said Mary Kendall, project manager for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

"They (local government) submit to us a plan, a sustainable communities action plan," Kendall said. "In that plan, we ask them to talk kind of specifically about how this target area, how this particular target community, how they're going to make it more environmentally friendly, economically viable and socially equitable."

After an application plan is submitted and reviewed by a six-agency panel and approved, sustainable communities are eligible for grants, loans and tax credits for projects such as sidewalk retrofit programs, bikeway programs and job creation tax credits.

The Catonsville chamber's committee is responsible for a number of revitalization projects already completed in the community, such as painting the bus shelter and bench outside the Catonsville post office.

"This is certainly good news for us," Ellen Hemmerly, chairwoman of the committee, said of the funding. "We are very hopeful that we will be successful in getting some additional funding for these projects. Resources area always hard to come by."

Hemmerly said the group has a number of proposed endeavors for the future, including improving parking, branding and signage along Frederick Road.

"There is a redevelopment project that looks like it's going to come on to Frederick Road, which looks like it will be a very positive addition to the business community," Hemmerly said.

"We're looking at several projects down in Paradise, and they are getting close to the final approval stages," she said.

"And then we have a number of folks who have talked to us about interesting projects that they want to do," Hemmerly said, refusing to elaborate.

"Certainly being a sustainable community and being able to bring in some state funding to help with some of the larger projects that we're working on will only enhance what we're doing," Hemmerly said

As of July 2, 2013, 33 communities had been deemed sustainable in Maryland. Catonsville, Greater Dundalk/Sparrows Point, Hillendale/Parkville/Overlea and the Pulaski Highway Redevelopment Area are the only ones in Baltimore County.

"We chose Catonsville for a number of reasons," said Andrea Van Arsdale, director of the Baltimore County Department of Planning. "One, it is a Baltimore County commercial revitalization district. It has a number of opportunities and some challenges.

"We wanted to look at Frederick Road from the (Baltimore) city line all the way out to the Patapsco (Valley) State Park," Van Arsdale said. "We included the little community of Paradise and that commercial area."

She said that although Catonsville has been growing as a business district, there can still be improvement in housing, infrastructure, business, the environment and more. The designation of sustainable community will allow the means to focus on those issues.

"While it (Catonsville) has many things going right, it, like many areas, has some areas that need attention," Van Arsdale said. "What this (being a sustainable community) enables us to do is go back and work with various community organizations to find projects that could be eligible for state funding."

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