Aberdeen seeks state money to buy land near train station

The Aberdeen City Council passed a resolution Monday to approve the application for financing from the state's Strategic Demolition and Smart Growth Impact Fund for a land acquisition project connected to the city's ambitious Station Square redevelopment plan.

The resolution calls for the city to request a grant, or loan, of up to $290,000 from the fund administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. The request will be in the form of an application to the secretary of the department. The city is required to submit its application to the secretary, Raymond Skinner, by Oct. 12.

The council is seeking funding to purchase property on the east side of Aberdeen, close to the MARC/Amtrak train station, for which significant renovations are already planned, though it's likely to be well into the future before they actually occur, city officials have been told by state transportation officials.

The Strategic Demolition and Smart Growth Impact Fund's purpose is to provide funding in the form of grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations for projects that would help to increase economic development, create jobs and promote smart growth in Maryland communities, according to the state.

The resolution passed, 3-0, as Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck, Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young and Mayor Michael Bennett all voted in favor submitting the application. Councilman Bruce Garner and Councilwoman Ruth Elliott were not at the meeting. The three members present, however, constituted a quorum to conduct business.

The proposed Station Square project is part of a "transit-oriented development" plan for Aberdeen to revitalize and focus development on the area immediately around the train station.

Last month, city officials said they hope the redevelopment project will, among other things, bridge the divide between the city's east and west communities.

Bennett said Tuesday the city needs to have the funding in place before it can put out a final plan of everything that's going on with the Station Square project.

The mayor said the transit development area involves the area within a half mile radius around the station. He also said the city could have some final plans for the project within a few weeks.

"You have to put the plan in place before you start building things," Bennett explained. "Once we have the plan in place, we'll pick what part of the puzzle to do first, and then we'll start doing that."

An updated cost estimate for the project is still being finalized, but a previous estimate fell in the $35 million range. During a public hearing on a concept plan for Station Square held in early August, city and state officials said a likely timetable for completing such a project would be a minimum of 20 to 30 years.

Timing is complicated by what ultimately happens to the train station, which is owned by Amtrak. A state transportation consultant said at the Station Square hearing that the railroad plans to add a fourth high speed track to its Northeast Corridor line through Aberdeen and to make extensive handicapped access improvements to all its stations, including Aberdeen's. Together, those improvements alone would necessitate moving the station footprint, since the existing platforms will no longer be usable, the consultant said.

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