A good start with zoning overlay, but more is needed

Posted 6/15/23

The city also should be considering proactive policies.

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A good start with zoning overlay, but more is needed


It’s great that Councilwoman Bass and a Germantown neighborhood could come together to create a new zoning ordinance that benefits the affected residents and the neighborhood more generally. The properties included in this new zoning ordinance are a shared legacy and should be valued all of the time, not just when faced with disruptive development. 

As such, the city should be considering not just defensive preservation strategies such as zoning reform, but proactive policies that add to neighborhood preservation capacity. 

For example, the city could:

Help interested neighborhoods establish neighborhood (not city council) controlled Neighborhood Improvement Districts (NIDs) that would undertake community-directed activities that strengthen neighborhoods.

Lobby the governor and legislators to establish a marketable state historic tax credit for owner-occupied properties to be used to fund home repairs and historic preservation activities. This strategy would work wonders for Germantown and other neighborhoods that are historic even if sometimes referred to as “middle-market neighborhoods.”

Recognize that costly “historic” improvements and repairs are often not financially rewarded in terms of enhanced re-sale value. To overcome this disincentive the city should permit some improvement costs to be deducted from property or wage taxes over several years with some re-capturing of this subsidy upon property re-sale, or refinancing, if values rise.

Create an equity insurance program for economically fragile, but historic neighborhoods. Equity insurance would support homeowner investment by assuring homeowners that they would not lose their investments if they sold in a housing market downturn.

Hopefully the next city administration will be more open to new and more expansive housing policies that meet diverse neighborhood and household needs furthering the prosperity of households and neighborhoods.

Daniel Hoffman

Mt. Airy