St. Charles, Maryland Seeks to Lead the Greening of the Suburb
The developer of St. Charles, a planned community in Charles County, Maryland, has announced plans to transform it into a green city, leveraging a new kind of enterprise zone and new construction of greener energy production facilities to spur development of 5,000,000 square feet of commercial space. American Community Properties Trust's ("ACPT") plans could augur a new wave of green development in the communities that ring Washington and Baltimore.
In the 1970s and 1980s, St. Charles led the transition of Charles County from a rural community into a diverse, thriving suburb of Washington. Today, roughly 25% of Charles County's residents live in St. Charles, just southeast of Waldorf. As a planned community, St. Charles bears some resemblance to communities like Columbia, Maryland and Reston, Virginia. While St. Charles has never had the same esteemed profile as these communities, the proposed greener St. Charles has the potential to establish itself as a significant commercial presence in the region.
St. Charles is a very large planned unit development. Even forty years after the community was begun, ACPT still holds an impressive 4,000 acres on which it is fully entitled to develop. The new green initiative serves as the framework for the development as it hits its final phase. In addition to the 5,000,000 square feet of commercial space, ACPT and its partners will build 11,000 new homes, all of which will be designed and built to attain LEED certification. The new portion of St. Charles will feature an energy generation facility that will use both photovoltaic cells and natural gas-powered equipment to generate electricity. This new facility is projected to be completed in 2012. Additionally, new schools within St. Charles will be designed and built to be LEED-certified.
The most important legal innovation in the St. Charles green initiative appears to lie in the tax benefits. ACPT seeks the creation of a new form of enterprise zone - the Green Jobs Opportunity Zone. It proposes that the State reimburse counties for a portion of property tax credits granted for the construction of high performance buildings within the Zone. Currently, counties and the City of Baltimore are authorized to grant such credits for new building meeting a LEED or equivalent standard, but in the current economic climate, local governments are often unable to extend such credits. The proposed law would also provide state income tax credits for the creation of new green jobs located in facilities within the Zone. ACPT estimates that up to 20,000 new green jobs will be created within St. Charles.Because the new provisions would apply statewide, they could serve to spur green development in other areas if it is enacted.
In recent weeks, the St. Charles development has come under fire for being insufficiently green. Critics point out that there is very little public transit involved in St. Charles and there is no light rail or subway link between St. Charles and Washington. St. Charles is twenty to forty miles by car from the job centers in the D.C. region. ACPT's proposal, though, calls for significant job creation in St. Charles itself, which could potentially reduce the need for such commutes.
Much of the region's development over the next ten to twenty years will be in communities similar to St. Charles - areas that lie outside traditional city centers, and are not fully linked to mass transit. Communities like White Marsh, Dulles and Christiana will remain attractive to the region's businesses. Thousands of the the region's residents will continue to choose to live in communities like Fallston, Germantown, and Stafford. This development cannot be undone, but the redevelopment and in-fill development in such areas can be undertaken in a high performance manner. The remaking of St. Charles will strongly influence the way large communities are developed or redeveloped in the region.