Trumbauer proposes preservation tax credit

Councilman Christopher Trumbauer is proposing a tax credit for historically significant properties.

Owners of historic homes and businesses could benefit from a significant tax credit in exchange for renovations to their property if new legislation being considered by the County Council is successful.

A bill introduced by Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, seeks to create a historic preservation tax credit that would cover up to 25 percent of an improvement project's cost by deducting that amount from an owner's property tax bill.


If the credit is adopted, Anne Arundel will join most of the state's major jurisdictions, including Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard, Calvert and Baltimore counties, which already have historic preservation tax incentives in place.

Trumbauer's proposal was inspired by a call from a constituent who was looking to renovate a historic home and wondered whether the county had any programs that could provide financial support.


"I looked into it and it turned out they did not," Trumbauer said. So he drafted his bill, which he says is "a little bit of a helping hand for folks that want to do the right thing for their historically significant property."

Under the legislation, residential and commercial properties deemed historically valuable by the county's Office of Planning and Zoning would be eligible for a tax credit equal to 25 percent of a renovation's cost, including interior improvements. New properties built within a historic district would be eligible for a tax credit equal to 5 percent of the cost of their construction, provided the new buildings are compatible with surrounding architecture.

The credit is capped at $50,000 per qualified property owner.

In order to qualify as historically valuable, a building must be at least 65 years old and have a high level of historical significance, based on its role in the county's past, association with the life of a significant person or architectural value, among other criteria. Properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or properties determined to be eligible for the register, would also qualify.

Because a quarter of the cost of an expensive renovation project is likely to surpass the total of an annual property tax bill, historic property owners can claim the credit for up to five years. In return, they agree to allow the county to place an easement on the structure.

Jane Cox, planning and zoning's chief of cultural resources, said the goal of the easement is to protect investment of public money into "properties of the highest historic significance."

"We want to make sure anything [property owners] do into the future will let the building maintain its landmark status," she said. Nevertheless, additions, changes and modifications would still be possible under the easement, as long as the building's most notable features remain intact.

According to Cox, only about 50 buildings will be eligible for the credit to start. While Anne Arundel County is rich in history and historical structures, many of them are owned by local government, nonprofits and religious institutions, which are all exempt from property taxes.


The tax credit also will not apply in Annapolis. The city already has one of its own, which offers between 10 and 25 percent off property taxes for homes and 25 percent for commercial properties on restoration projects that cost more than $5,000.

"We're actually one of the very few jurisdictions that does not have a tax credit program so we're very excited to see this come around," Cox said.

Preservation Maryland, a statewide organization dedicated to saving Maryland's historic buildings, has registered its support for the bill.

At a Jan. 4 council meeting, Margaret De Arcangelis, preservation services director for the group, said tax credits "attract and sustain private investment and revitalization of areas" and "encourage the preservation of the historic character within the county."

Trumbauer said he's still smoothing out a few details. Crofton land-use attorney Eric Devito said at the Jan. 4 session that he was concerned the county's perpetual easement clause would unfairly restrict property owners, though Trumbauer points out that the easement can be reversed if an owner repays their tax credit.

County Executive Steve Schuh and Councilman John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, have signed on to the bill as co-sponsors.


"Anne Arundel County is a county with rich historic traditions, and those rich historic traditions bring people, tourists, fuel economic growth and are an important part of our overall economy, so we want to encourage historic preservation," Schuh spokesman Owen McEvoy said of the proposed credit.

Grasso said the legislation was essential to making preservation an economically viable decision.

"If we do care about our history and try to preserve the authentic pre-Civil War type buildings, then we have to do these kinds of things to keep it going on," he said. "Otherwise, people will turn around and say, 'I don't want it looking like that any more.'"