ANNAPOLIS — The Poppleton neighborhood on Baltimore’s west side and Leonardtown Wharf in Leonardtown, St. Mary’s County, were designated the first two “Priority Places” by the Department of Planning Tuesday.
The projects are part of a revitalization effort focusing on the development side of Smart Growth, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said. The Smart Growth Initiative has several components, including the preservation of rural land and the redevelopment of urban or previously developed sites.
An interagency planning staff selected the two Priority Places from among 22 locations that applied for the designation. The staff was drawn from 10 state agencies, including the departments of Planning, Environment, Natural Resources, Housing and Community Development and Business and Economic Development.
A project planner will help local groups in the Priority Places find and apply for appropriate grants from the 10 agencies.
Priority Places will go to the “head of the line” for grants because the governor has put his weight behind this approach and because all agencies voted for the selected locations, said Chuck Gates, spokesman for the Department of Planning.
However, there is no separate funding in the budget for them, he said.
The approach seeks to combine offices, shops, restaurants, a mix of housing, and, where appropriate, public transit or, in the case of Leonardtown Wharf, a scenic destination, into a vital new neighborhood.
Leonardtown, the county seat and only municipality in St. Mary’s County, was for 200 years a shipping port for tobacco, oil and other products. The chosen site is approximately 6 acres that formerly held the old oil depot, a deserted ice plant and the charred remains of a restaurant done in by arson 20 years ago, said Mayor J. Harry Norris III.
Leonardtown had earlier used $105,000 in state funding to study the environmental issues and clean up the site, he said, noting that the county had also helped with the project.
Once the site was cleaned up, private developers purchased about 5 acres, on which they plan to put mixed-use development, Norris said.
The town got .75 acres of waterfront for a park with a boardwalk and kayak and canoe rentals. Engineering and design of the park site will cost $3 million, he said.
“We’re pleased that (the governor) is moving forward with a piece of Smart Growth — that has been going forward in Maryland for a number of years,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director for 1000 Friends of Maryland.
“But overall these Priority Place awards do little to make up for other violations of Smart Growth,” she said. She was critical of the administration’s lack of funds for land preservation and poor transit choices — including support for the Inter-county Connector and failure to invest in public transit.
“What these projects most need is funds. Ehrlich raided the Neighborhood Conservation Program funds and cancelled the program,” Schmidt-Perkins said.
The Priority Place program will expedite regulatory approval and end the era of waiting for permits, Ehrlich said.
“That makes sense,” he said.
– 30 –