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Manchester re-energizes untapped sustainability resource

Firefighter-in-training Benjamin Eppley, 16, polishes one of the fire engines at the Manchester firehouse on June 27. The firehouse may be eligible for grants for refurbishment under the state's Sustainable Communities program.
Firefighter-in-training Benjamin Eppley, 16, polishes one of the fire engines at the Manchester firehouse on June 27. The firehouse may be eligible for grants for refurbishment under the state's Sustainable Communities program.(Photo by Jon Kelvey , Carroll County Times)

Sometime in the late '80s or early '90s, no one is quite sure, someone in Manchester applied with the state of Maryland to have the town listed as a Designated Neighborhood under the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, according to Town Administrator Steve Miller.
"We have no clue who did the application originally," Miller said.
Manchester received the special designation, according to Miller, which he said makes the town eligible for potential grants from the state, but they never made use of it.
"I think maybe in the back of our minds we knew about the designation, we knew that, but we didn't have the time or staff to do it. It's an untapped resource," Miller said.
The special designation was brought back to mind when the state invited representatives to a training in Taneytown in February, Miller said, which was when they realized that there were both potential monies available to the town and action required in order to get at them.
In 2010, Maryland passed the Sustainable Communities Act, which consolidated the Neighborhood designation and others underneath the Sustainable Community umbrella term, according to Jon Papagni, a program officer in the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Division of Neighborhood Revitalization.
"Sustainable communities is a consolidation of several designations," Papagni said. "It's generally about strengthening local economies and revitalizing local communities. It could be grants or loans, there is a whole toolbox, and that is the distinction between the old Neighborhood designation, which was a single program."
Towns like Manchester, which were previously recognized under the Designated Neighborhood program, can re-apply to continue their designation under the new program, according to Papagni.
Once approved by the state, towns can then apply for specific funding sources, according to Mary Kendall, a project manager with the Division of Neighborhood Revitalization.
"They can be eligible for various funding programs that could be grants, loans or tax credits that will help them achieve their community revitalization goals," Kendall said.
Those goals are the key to the application process, according to Kendall, who said a town like Manchester needs to show it has a plan to increase social equity, environmental responsibility and economic opportunity with monies that would be received.
"What we really look at is for them to tell us that they have an actual plan to increase their housing opportunities, the economic development opportunities ... We are really looking for a comprehensive strategy over the next five years," Kendall said.
Putting together just such a plan is the current goal of Miller and a special Sustainable Communities Workgroup that has been set up and includes members of the town staff, the town council and representatives from the business, landlord and nonprofit community in Manchester.
"We started going through the application and realized we had to get the community involved in this. We can't make decisions on this just as staff," Miller said.
The workgroup first met at the beginning of June and will meet again July 10, according to Miller.
Pete Garey is the representative from the Manchester Area Merchants Association on the workgroup and he said that the discussion is just getting started.
"The ideas thus far are just small-scale stuff to pretty up the town. It was mentioned that we could add flower boxes on Main Street, or improve the signage welcoming people to Manchester, and adding flags and banners to the light poles. Minor things, but little things do add up," Garey said.
One larger item for which the town might find funds, according to Miller, is the expansion of Manchester's sewer water treatment capacity, a change that could have large ramifications for the town's budget past 2017, when current revenues from new developments will cease due to water treatment-based restrictions on new growth.
"An upgrade at our wastewater treatment plant and could affect the build-out issue; that's a possibility that would open the door for annexation for different properties," Miller said.
Other projects could include lighting at local ball fields and a refurbishment of the Manchester firehouse, according to Miller.
To aid in the application process and the subsequent grant and loan requests, Manchester has contracted the Union Mills-based Diverse Management and Planning, according to Jared Schumacher, a partner with the firm.
"What we do is we get together with the workgroup and we get their ideas and we'll take those ideas and put together what is called an action plan," Schumacher said. "In that action plan are ideas from residents of Manchester what they feel like is the most important thing for them. Based on those ideas we'll eventually go after these credits and grants that will be available."
According to Miller, the town plans to have the initial application process complete by October.
Community members interested in contributing ideas can call the town office at 410-239-3200, or email manchestermd@comcast.net.
"I think this is a good step for the town to take," Miller said. "During our first meeting, I told the group, 'I can't promise you anything, but this is a first step to get monies into our community.'"

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