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County looks to boost redevelopment effort

The Baltimore Sun

During the first three years of Howard County's Revitalization Loan Program for the U.S. 1 corridor, local banks made 17 loans for developments. The past three years, there were seven -- including two in 2007 -- which is why county officials gathered a group of bankers to try to spark a resurgence of activity.

"Frankly, I'd like to see a lot more deals being done, and I'm sure you do, too," County Executive Ken Ulman told the bankers at a meeting in the George Howard Building late last week.

The program, in which banks offer small-business owners and property owners low-interest loans while county officials help speed approvals, was designed in 2002 to speed redevelopment along sometimes seedy-looking stretches of the county's oldest commercial strip. The program is being expanded to include the U.S. 40 strip in Ellicott City. Since 2002, $26 million has been lent for the program.

The fruits of the first burst of activity in the nine-year-old U.S. 1 effort are just now becoming evident in the form of new mixed-use residential-commercial buildings and hundreds of new townhouses and apartments. More is coming, but Ulman and Economic Development Authority Chief Executive Officer Richard W. Story want the bankers to help reverse the slowdown.

The county rezoned 1,500 acres along U.S. 1 in 2004 in ways designed to promote redevelopment, and Mina Hilsenrath, chief of environmental and community planning for the county, said there are seven projects planned for 87 acres zoned for urban-style uses under the new Corridor Activity Center designation. These contain 1.1 million square feet of commercial space, and 3,700 homes and apartments. In addition, plans are moving forward for a large, mixed-use project at the Savage MARC train station that will include a hotel, 416 apartments, commercial space and a 1,000-space garage.

"We need the next couple of projects to pop so people can see that and say, 'Oh, that's what they mean. Maybe I can do that with my property,'" Ulman said.

Howard County has a dwindling supply of undeveloped land that is zoned for development, but the county is starting to promote redevelopment of older areas, too, to prevent further decline and blight, he added.

"I want us to be able to redevelop before that ever happens," Ulman said.

Mary Ann Scully, president of Howard Bank, said the slowdown in loans occurred because "there just haven't been that many development projects."

Michael Galeone, executive vice president of Columbia Bank and a member of the county's Economic Development Authority, said the program promotes the bank and "also fulfills community reinvestment" for banks that want to be good corporate citizens and see the county continue to prosper.

"They're good investments," he said about the loans.

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