Tax credit proposed for historic renovation Bill would erase fear of higher city levies on improved property


Go ahead and repair that mid-19th-century front door and start painting those cornices with the intricate dentil moldings. The city is in the mood to pick up part of the tab -- in the form of a 10-year property tax credit for thousands of historic buildings.

A City Council bill is in the works to give property owners a financial break if they have wanted to do significant improvements but couldn't because of the threat of higher property taxes.

"This will ensure that your tax bill will not rise if you make your house beautiful," said Eric L. Holcomb, a city planner with the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

Under the bill, if a property owner meets the requirements to renovate a historic structure, for 10 years after the work is completed the assesed tax will remain at the level before the renovation.

The planning commission will hear the details of the bill and hear from the public today at a 1:30 p.m. meeting. The bill likely will be approved -- all but one council member support it.

"We're encouraged by the support given by the City Council," said Michael K. Day, chief of the office of preservation services for the Maryland Historical Trust.

The property tax rate in the city is $5.85 per $100 of assessed value. For years, citizens have complained that, in effect, they were being punished for upgrading their homes because the assessed value would rise and taxes would be greater.

To qualify, the property must be listed on the local or national register for historic buildings or be within one of the 20 locally designated historic districts throughout the city. Improvements must equal or exceed 25 percent of the property's value before rehabilitation.

At least 22,000 properties are eligible for the tax credits, according to figures provided by the Baltimore Heritage.

The goals of the program include preserving the city's historic buildings, increasing tax revenue in the long-term, attracting wealthier homeowners into the city and encouraging home improvements to conform to an approved style.

The tax credit, if the plan is recommended for approval by the commission, is a four-step process:

* The property owner must submit an application to the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP), the city's historic district commission, for preliminary approval to begin renovation work.

* After the work has been completed, the application is forwarded to the State Department of Assessment and Taxation (SDAT).

* SDAT figures which portion of the improvements is eligible.

* The department will credit the property owner's tax bill.

The bill was introduced into the Baltimore City Council on June 15 at the request of Baltimore Heritage Inc. and The Society for Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point.

A public hearing is scheduled in City Hall for Nov. 16 at 1:45. The City Council will vote on Nov. 20.

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