Howard County elected officials are searching for ways to boost relief to business and property owners after a major flood swept through old Ellicott City three months ago.
One proposal, the Ellicott City Strong Tax Credit, would make up to a total of $200,000 in funds available over two years in the form of tax credits to owners of residential properties to cover the costs of repairing, restoring or redeveloping their property.
The proposed tax credit only applies to those who own residential property in the historic district that suffered flood or sewage damage because of the July storm. Property owners can apply for one tax credit per year.
"This legislation is just one more way that we can help ease the financial burden for the many residential owners who are continuing to clean up from the devastating flood," said County Council Chairman Calvin Ball, who proposed the measure. Councilman Jon Weinstein co-sponsored the legislation.
The Howard County Council is calling on the county delegation to expand tax credits for commercial property owners. The law currently allows local jurisdictions to grant property tax credits for those impacted by floods, but is limited to residential property owners.
"The harm to commercial property was so massive, in fact, that repair, rehabilitation, restoration and redevelopment will be challenging not to mention it will likely pose many obstacles, be exceedingly expensive and time-consuming." wrote Ball in a Sept. 27 letter to the delegation on behalf of the council.
The historic district will open to the public on Oct. 6 for the first time since the devastating flood impacted 90 businesses and displaced 190 residents.
Several businesses like the Judge's Bench, a pub located in a former grocery store, and Su Casa, a furniture store, have already opened their doors. Others like Sam Coyne of Craig Coyne Jewelers, are not reopening. Coyne shuttered his business after 16 years on Main Street, leaving the scene of a changing historic district.
A second measure would allow the county to approve minor changes to historic buildings without the formal approval of the county's Historic Preservation Commission, an advisory body that reviews changes to historic structures.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman proposed this emergency bill to eliminate red tape as building owners rebuild and repair old Ellicott City. If passed by the council, the measure would reduce the waiting period for approval from up to two months to around two weeks.
"We have an opportunity to eliminate some of the red tape while at the same time respecting the historic designation of these buildings," Kittleman said in a statement.
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The Ellicott brothers founded old Ellicott City in 1772. Then known as Ellicott Mill, the old town, which is designed to support a mill along water that flows under the area's buildings, was one of the largest milling towns on the east coast.
The commission, which will still approve major changes to historic structures, reviews applications for changes based on the historic significance of structures, its relationship to the surrounding area and the project's overall compatibility with the area, according to the county's code.
The faster approval process applies to signs, repairs of destroyed materials like windows, doors and railings, painting, lights and mailboxes.
The measure also expands tax credits for spending that restores or preserves eligible historic properties. The change would give property tax credits to cover roughly 25 percent of eligible expenses for wall repairs, fence changes and other landscape features. The tax credit only applies to expenses $500 or greater.
Allan Shad, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, said his organization supports streamlining the process for minor changes.
"The new process will avoid lengthy timelines for property owners making minor changes that comply with the historic district guidelines and will aid the recovery and reconstruction of historic Ellicott City," Shad said.
The council will formally introduce the measures at the council's legislative session on Oct. 5.