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County Comment: Better Air and Better Housing

County Comment
Better Air and Better Housing
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

In its regular meeting on November 13th, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners heard presentations on two issues dealing with Air Quality and Workforce Housing.
Senior Planner Jill Baker brought an update of the County's Air Quality Status to the Board, with a request to endorse the Maryland Department of the Environment request to the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration for re-designation of air quality in the County.
If you've seen Air Quality notifications in newspapers, on television and on the Internet in recent years, you have seen evidence of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Early Action Plan for Washington County. The process started in December 2002 after the United States amended the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone. With the changes in the National standards, the historical monitoring data for Washington County exceeded the new standards and therefore put our County in a non-attainment status.
For areas such as Washington County that were previously in attainment and were now found to be in a marginal non-attainment status, the EPA developed a process by which these new non-attainment areas could request a deferred status. That deferment was intended to provide a benefit to those areas that demonstrated attainment standards could be reached by December 2007. In addition, if the areas could demonstrate attainment by the December 2007 deadline, an attainment status would be granted to the area, again negating the need for conformity. Discontinuing the implementation of the Early Action Plan would insure that a designation of non-attainment would be immediately imposed and would lead to stricter air quality standards, and could affect the funding or timing of transportation projects that receive federal assistance.
Planner Jill Baker asked that the Board endorse the MDE request to EPA for re-designation of Washington County, reinstating attainment of the 8-hour Ozone standard, and that measure was approved by consensus.
The County took a step forward in provision of housing for its workforce by approving a cooperative venture with the City of Hagerstown and the Community Action Council (CAC) on a project to build moderate income housing in the 500 block of South Potomac Street across from Bester Elementary School.
Dave Jordan, CAC Executive Director and Larry Bayer, Community Development Director for the City of Hagerstown asked for Commissioners' participation in constructing 4 duplex dwellings and 1 single family detached unit for a total of 9 units on vacant parcels now owned by the City of Hagerstown.
Those units, designed to be architecturally compatible with the neighborhood, will sell for $130,000 to $135,000 and provide the owners with a 1,200 to 1,500 square foot home with alley access to off-street parking and adequate rear yards. The units are not intended to be low-income housing, and would be moderate-income housing for those with household earnings similar to entry-level police officers, fire fighters, lower level managers at area businesses or teachers.
Jordan said the project is an example of how workforce housing can be created in the County and would set the stage for the future development of that nature.
One result of the project would be the creation a Land and Housing Trust. The land the units occupy would be retained by the Land Trust to maintain workforce housing affordability in the long term. The homeowner would purchase only the improvements on the lot.
Funding for the project would come from local, state and federal sources. Funding from some sources would be in the form of a grant and some would require repayment. Proceeds from the sale of units not required for repayment or reimbursement would be used to create a revolving fund to assist with similar projects In addition, students at the Technical High School could participate in the construction of the single family detached unit, which would be developed as barrier-free.
The proposed development would have a cost of $1.9 million, including $400,000 from the County, which would be repayable. The City would contribute $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds as well as the land, valued at $280,000. Commissioners said they wanted to ensure that County citizens would be "first in line" for the program.
Money for development of such a program had been set aside in prior years.

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