Polluted former industrial sites could become prime locations

March 10, 1997


Staff Writer

The old Hagerstown Roundhouse on Burhans Boulevard is one of several city sites that might qualify for the state's new Brownfields program that offers incentives to clean up and develop polluted former industrial and business sites.

Brownfields is intended to help encourage businesses to locate in developed areas instead of moving into rural and suburban areas and destroying more forests and farmlands, state officials said.

Hagerstown Senior Planner Kathy Maher said several city buildings that either are vacant or unused might qualify for inclusion in the program.


"You could safely say one of them might be the roundhouse," Maher said. The old roundhouse is owned by CSX railroad, which has been cleaning up the property, she said.

Maher said some other sites on a list of vacant, underused and substandard commercial/industrial buildings ringing the downtown area also might qualify.

Among them are:

  • The vacant Hagerstown/Cannon Shoe Co. at 148 W. Franklin St.
  • The underutilized building that formerly housed Moller Organ Works at 403 N. Prospect St.
  • The vacant Brandt Warehouse Building at 36 W. Antietam St.
  • The vacant PE building on Summit Avenue.
  • The underused Cosmic Pet building on South Burhans Boulevard.
  • The underused Fairchild building at 881 Pennsylvania Ave.

Washington County Economic Development Coordinator Sharon Disque said the program "is not like a Superfund list. It's more like older facilities that you can suspect have some contamination because you know their former use."

Disque said the county hasn't yet put together a list of potential brownfields sites.

In the past, fear of liability for environmental contamination has kept some businesses from reporting the problem, and skittish lenders wouldn't consider financing a sale if site pollution were suspected, said Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Quentin Banks.

One of the problems was liability, because if a bank foreclosed, it was responsible for site cleanup, Banks said.

Under brownfields, things will be different.

The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development is working out details of a grant and loan program for developers of brownfields sites, and will exempt from liability lenders who loan money to help pay for cleanup of pollutants.

To qualify for brownfields incentives, a site must:

  • Be contaminated by a hazardous substance or by oil.
  • Be a former industrial or commercial site located in a densely-populated urban area, or a site that poses a threat to public health or the environment.
  • Be located in a city or county that has enacted a local ordinance giving developers of brownfields properties a property tax credit.

Hagerstown Mayor Steven T. Sager said the city actively supported the brownfields legislation. "We don't have bundles of those kinds of sites, but we have enough. I think it will help us," he said.

"Tax breaks are something we'll explore," Sager said. "Whether we do it on a case-by-case basis, which is my inclination, or in a blanket way, I don't know yet."

Washington County Administrator Rod Shoop said he wasn't aware that the brownfields legislation had become law, and wasn't in a position yet to comment on tax-break legislation.

No one knows how many potential sites there are in Maryland, Banks said.

The contaminated former Central Chemical Co. plant off Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown would not qualify, because it has been proposed for inclusion on the federal Superfund cleanup list, Banks said. Those properties are eliminated from consideration for brownfields, he said.

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