Greg Larry, Cumberland Times-News — January 30, 2016
A few weeks ago my neighbors & I sat down an had a very informative meeting with several people interested in our situation. Below is a summary of what to me was a great meeting.
For those of you interested or following this closely, the picture below shows all the homes including the church that will be demolished if the city is allowed to go through with this.
CUMBERLAND — Among homes within the borders of the Maryland Avenue Revitalization Project, several property owners are thinking twice about making a quick exit.
By attending community meetings in recent weeks, the residents have received insight and advice of preservation experts and a real estate attorney.
Armed with increased awareness, those homeowners are continuing to question the city’s urban renewal plan.
Also known as the Rolling Mill project, the plan calls for the removal of 60 homes and a church between Maryland Avenue and Park Street and Williams and Emily streets.
Based on economic development studies, the site’s proximity to Interstate 68 and its flat topography make it an attractive site for revitalization.
The plan has received support, including a letter from Clarence and Linda Fansler who sold two properties on Cecelia Street to the Cumberland Economic Development Corp.
The letter was read during a recent meeting of the mayor and city council. The Fanslers said they had been “treated exceptionally well” and were “very happy with the offer.”
The renewal project is being administered by the nonprofit CEDC.
The plan includes transforming the site into a commercial district containing a restaurant and businesses. City officials hope the plan will help to reverse the city’s shrinking tax base.
Although an estimated 20 homes have already been purchased in the target area and about 20 are currently in negotiation, roughly about 20 other homeowners are having second thoughts about selling.
It’s these holdouts that are finding their homes may be worth more than the tax assessment used by the CEDC to base their offers.
The residents held a meeting in the community room at Martin’s supermarket on Jan. 15. They listened to presentations from Nicholas Redding, executive director of the nonprofit Preservation Maryland, and William Wantz, a real estate attorney.
With no tenants confirmed to locate on the proposed commercial site, Wantz told the residents their homes could not be condemned and taken for “speculative use.”
He also told the homeowners that zoning should be taken into consideration when assigning monetary value to the properties.
“The zoning for your properties is highway-business,” said Wantz. “If you look at the charted uses in the city of Cumberland zoning ordinances, just about every lucrative use you can think of is checked.”
A zoning specialist, Wantz said that land is likely to be worth more than the houses on it.
“It is the most permissive zoning used in the city of Cumberland. It is (remarkably) higher than residential use,” said Wantz. “You are sitting on a wild card. Each of your lots is potentially usable for anything land can be used for. Therefore the highest and best use of your property is (remarkably) higher than the actual uses of your property.”
Redding said that Preservation Maryland wants to lend its assistance to the residents.
“We been active since 1931 and we’ve been in a lot of fights like this before,” said Redding. “This area has a lot of places worth saving. We see preservation not just as a tool to save big fancy places that you might think of like mansions and things like that. Preservation is a tool for smart growth.”
Wantz also took issue with the CEDC’s apparent lack of interest in the flat land beside Martin’s that many feel would be a better site for development. Even though the land is considered an environmental brownfield site, it could be used, according to Wantz.
“There is a giant brownfield site available right here. Martin’s is built on a brownfield site. We are on a brownfield site right now.”
Brownfield is a term used in urban planning to describe land previously used for industrial purposes or some commercial uses. Such land may have been contaminated with hazardous waste or pollution or is feared to be so. Once cleaned up, such an area can become host to a business development such as a retail park.
Wantz, who charges to litigate, offered to represent any of the holdouts who wish to employ his services.