County Council passes tax credit for green residences, among other bills

The Howard County Council passed a bill Monday night that creates a temporary property tax credit for residences built to certain environmental standards.

The council also approved legislation making gender identity a protected classification under the county's anti-discrimination law; allowing police to impound illegally parked commercial vehicles with outstanding parking tickets; and updating the housing unit allocation chart.

The property tax credit bill was introduced by Columbia Democrat Calvin Ball and co-sponsored by Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson to provide an incentive for new apartment buildings, townhouses and single family homes to be built to higher environmental standards.

"A major goal (of the bill) was to help foster a cleaner, greener environment while stimulating economic development," Ball said.

The bill passed 4-0. Fulton Republican Greg Fox recused himself from voting because he works for Constellation Energy as the director of business development for energy conservation.

The credit, which is given as a percentage of the total county property tax assessed on the residence, will only be given to homes with a silver rating or higher under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

The property owner is only eligible to receive the credit for four years; the credit percentage will decrease each year. The bill originally gave the same credit amount — 100 percent in the first year, decreasing to 25 percent by the fourth year — to all qualifying residences, but an amendment passed with the bill decreases the amount of the credit for residences rated lower than LEED platinum.

"It promotes a higher level of LEED certification to hopefully encourage a higher commitment to environmental sustainability," Ball explained.

LEED gold rated residences start with a 90 percent credit in the first year, decreasing to 23 percent in the fourth year. LEED silver rated residences start with a 75 percent credit in the first year, decreasing to a 19 percent credit by the fourth year.

The bill has a five-year sunset provision. The tax credits would start in fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1, 2012, and terminate after fiscal year 2017, which ends June 30, 2017. The amendment caps the credit per building at $5,000 for each fiscal year.

The county already gives property tax credits to commercial buildings that achieve at least a LEED silver rating or comparable rating. Only five buildings — three with LEED gold ratings and two with LEED silver ratings — have received tax credits under that program since it started in 2008. The total amount the county has given to those buildings through the tax credits is $553,499.

Other votes

The gender identity bill, which was sponsored by the council's four Democrats, passed 4-1 along party lines. The bill protects transgender or gender nonconforming persons from discrimination with regards to housing, employment and public accommodations.

Fox voted against the bill because he said the concerns the bill is trying to address are already covered by existing laws.

"I, too, am concerned about discrimination on all levels, which continues to exist despite our laws," he said. "If additional protections are needed, that is something that should be addressed at the federal or state level in order to ensure a consistent message and more importantly, predictable law."

Fox added: "I am concerned that just between neighboring Montgomery County and Howard County how different the definitions are for gender identity and how confusing the language is regarding what is and isn't being exempted for public accommodations."

The council also unanimously passed a bill, introduced by Ball, allowing police to impound illegally parked commercial vehicles with outstanding parking tickets.

The bill originally authorized police to tow any vehicle parked on a public street that had one or more parking tickets associated with it that had been outstanding for at least 90 days. But some criticized the bill as too harsh, prompting Ball to file amendments, which the council passed, specifying the bill only applies to commercial vehicles parked illegally in a residential neighborhood or adjacent street.

The bill also was amended so it will not take effect until March 1. Most bills take effect 61 days after the council vote.

Ball said the amendments minimize unintended consequences, while still allowing the bill to accomplish what he intended.

"The primary concern that I've heard from residents surrounds the proliferation of commercial vehicles that continue to be illegally parked in residential neighborhoods and streets adjacent to residential neighborhoods," he explained.

The council also unanimously passed a resolution adopting the annual update to the housing unit allocation chart, which regulates residential development throughout the county.

The council tabled the open/closed chart for school districts, which also affects residential development, because the school system has yet to finalize the purchase of the planned site for a new elementary school in Elkridge. If the school system is unable to purchase the Ducketts Lane site, that area of Elkridge will be closed to residential development next year.

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