Town officials establish themselves as Hancock’s Urban Renewal Authority

by Geoff Fox

Hancock town officials have officially established an Urban Renewal Authority for the town, naming themselves as the primary agency to guide town renewal plans.

Town officials made the unanimous decision last Thursday evening, March 23, in a special town meeting.

By establishing the Urban Renewal Authority, it would allow town officials to identify the properties that are a blight or need to be improved.

A plan to do so must be presented to the public and a public hearing must be held.

Under the amendment passed by the Maryland Legislature, the town had the ability to have the mayor and council serve as the authority or create a separate body. Hancock officials chose the latter.

Because the creation of the Urban Renewal Authority was not an ordinance, it became official as soon as it passed.

Town Manager Mike Faith said the town’s planning commission would have a function in the authority to recommend properties that need to go into urban renewal.

Faith added the town could add the property with or without the owner’s permission.

“All we’re doing, is it’s an avenue for us to get rid of some of the blight,” he said. “It’s one more tool for us to use in the toolbox.”

No plan has officially been adopted.

Faith also noted putting a property into the Urban Renewal Plan could spark an owner who has owned a piece of property for 30 years and not touched it to take action.

Residential property within the town center, or commercial zone, can also be added to the Urban Renewal Plan, Faith said.

Faith said he spoke with a property owner whose property couldn’t be fixed up due to lack of funds.

Under an Urban Renewal Plan, the town would have options to help the property owner acquire the property.

Faith said any steps to take over blighted property would be “way down the road.” The creation of the Urban Renewal Authority opens the opportunity for the town to use money that was allocated by the state of Maryland for the town.

Town Attorney Ed Kuczynski said Williamsport is looking at the same issue and there is a building that might get pushed to the point where that town might have to take it because the property owner doesn’t want to improve the building.

There are also a few commercial properties in Williamsport, Kuczynski said, that could use a freshening up on the outside and they have a grant program through their Main Street program.

“You could see a building like that go into the Urban Renewal Plan with the plan to be to encourage the owner to apply,” Kuczynski said.

Councilman Roland Lanehart, Jr. said without the authority and plan being created, the state wouldn’t give Hancock the money allotted them.

“We have to have a plan. They just don’t write you a check,” Faith said.

State legislators passed the Urban Renewal law last year. If a property would need to be demolished, Kuczynski suggested officials could create a demolition grant program that would look like a loan.

He said it would be a grant for as long as the same person owns the property, the grant/loan would be deferred payments. The loan would only have to be repaid if there is a sale of the property on the market or the passing of the owner.

Mayor Tim Smith said the plan is not pressing someone to sell because they don’ t have the money to fix something, but it does open opportunities to apply for grant money to fix things up.

Town officials will announce when they have a draft plan for urban renewal priorities, and when a public hearing on that plan will be set.