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Benefits for downtown Hagerstown developers OK'd

September 01, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- A new benefit program for downtown developers was approved Tuesday.

The city's Partners in Economic Progress Incentive Program offers 10 incentives -- such as grants, waived fees and fast-track approval -- for people who fix up property according to certain benchmarks.

The Hagerstown City Council approved $125,000 for one year of the program. City staff will tell the council each time an application is approved.

"If we use up all this money, we should be very happy campers," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

The city was going to put another $125,000 into a second year of the program, but Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood, in particular, was concerned about looking past the first year.

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In an interview after the meeting, she said the city expects to cut up to $1.8 million from its $160 million budget because of recent funding cuts imposed by the state.

"We need to recognize what we're about to face," she said.

The council massaged the program for several weeks. Haywood suggested waiting another week for an updated draft, but Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and others were ready to move ahead.

"This is a huge marketing tool for economic development and downtown," said Deborah Everhart, the city's economic development director.

A developer must invest at least $250,000 for a commercial project, $200,000 for a mixed-use project and $100,000 for a residential project to be eligible for an incentive.

A committee of four city officials would decide which applications to approve.

Councilman Forrest Easton wondered why Everhart wouldn't be a fifth committee member, perhaps casting a tiebreaking vote. But City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Everhart is an advocate for developers, so there might be pressure for her to side with them.

Council members debated whether to have a formal appeals process.

Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said he opposes making the council an automatic appellate body. Metzner agreed, saying the staff would become "an irrelevant, necessary evil."

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