The town will also be using the plan as a guideline to become a Maryland Certified Sustainable Community. Becoming certified would help the town in its efforts to obtain future federal and state grants to aid in any redevelopment projects.
According to the website http://www.sustainablemaryland.com Sustainable Maryland Certified is "a program of the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland designed to support Maryland's 157 municipalities as they look for cost-effective and strategic ways to protect their natural assets and revitalize their communities."
"Using best practices in resource areas like water, energy, planning, health, food, and economy, a municipality can earn points toward sustainability certification," the website states. "This free and voluntary program, with the full support of the Maryland Municipal League, helps communities choose a direction for their greening efforts; complete their chosen actions with help from program tools, trainings, case studies, and other resources; and be recognized for their accomplishments."
At the Jan. 15 work session, Favero gave the example of the experiences of several communities that have been recognized for their sustainability efforts including Park City, Utah, and Greensburg, Kan. The latter was leveled by a tornado in May 2007 and is being rebuilt as a 100 percent green city with LEED-certified buildings and renewable energy sources.
Existing efforts, assets
Burdette, the commissioner who served on the Bel Air's sustainability panel, said the weekly farmers market in town is an example of sustainability already being promoted by the town. She also mentioned the effort to get public Wi-Fi access along Main Street and in other areas downtown, which is a joint undertaking with the county. Both are included among the report's action recommendations.
In the earlier focus groups, in which about 31 residents participated, among the town's assets mentioned were the armory, open spaces and parks, a "charming" business district, cleanliness, the farmers market, good schools, numerous community events, proximity of residential neighborhoods to core downtown services, recreation opportunities, Rockfield Manor, Liriodendron, a safe community and "a community that is welcoming to business."
Other assets discussed included the town's position as a public and private service hub for the county and the engagement of residents in their town government and various volunteer organizations and activities. The report notes that one focus group member called Bel Air "a unique 21st Century village."
Several concerns were mentioned by focus group participants and committee members, among them:
• Traffic. The town is seen as unfriendly to pedestrians and bicyclists; traffic safety issues are viewed as increasing; and there is a perceived need for public transit alternatives.
• The town doesn't have complete control of its destiny and "must negotiate and partner over increasingly complex issues" with county government, state government and the private company that supplies drinking water to Bel Air.
• Environmental degradation is evident, with streams and stream banks prominently mentioned.
• There are growing numbers of residential renters who, in the view of some residents, are not well connected with the town government.
Future opportunities mentioned in the report included:
• The downtown commercial area can become a more attractive destination for visitors and residents. Once again, bicyclists and pedestrians are mentioned.
• Downtown can grow "upwards," with mixed residential and commercial uses - including second and third floor spaces, especially along Main Street.
• The town can become better known as an arts center, particularly for public art.
• The town can develop a better sense of place "because citizens and visitors will become more aware of and knowledgeable about the town's history."