Why create the Port Street Small Area Master Plan?
This Port Street Small Area Redevelopment Plan, or Plan, developed by the Town of Easton and the Easton Economic Development Corporation with citizen input, is meant to guide future development for the area known as Easton Point, and the Port Street corridor connecting Easton Point to downtown Easton. Through its redevelopment, Port Street will become a vibrant gateway into the Town, with diverse uses including cultural, housing, open spaces, walkability, recreation, restaurants and retail.
The Plan is meant to provide a framework for evaluating and locating future commercial and residential projects, determining appropriate levels and locations for civic, commercial and recreational activities, and guiding land use decisions into the future. While focused on the Port Street corridor, this plan was developed in the context of the broader town and regional landscape of land conservation and smart growth, and informed by broader trends in land use, innovative economic development strategies, and goals for protecting the natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay. This plan is intended to be compatible with the Easton Comprehensive Plan and the Easton Point Park Master Plan.
This master plan should be regarded as a possibility, but not necessarily the only possibility of what the Study Area may look like in the future. This information is provided to inform stakeholders of the scope and scale of the vision that is contemplated by the Town, and the costs that are attendant to the implementation of such a vision, not necessarily to dictate the precise form, function, or timing of any new development or redevelopment that may occur within the Study Area.
What will the implementation of the Plan cost?
Based on the initial draft master plan and study, it is believed that the Port Street corridor could result in over $250 million in public and private investment over the next 15 years resulting in 28,000 square feet of new retail space; 53,000 square feet of community/civic space; 90,000 square feet of office space; 323 new construction affordable and market-rate housing units; 250 new hotel rooms; new waterside public parks, and an expanded boat ramp. Linkages between downtown and the waterfront will be strengthened through investments in streetscape and bike trails.
Who will pay for the implementation of the Plan?
To spur the redevelopment and private investments that the Town would like to see within the Study Area, some amount of public investment or other subsidy will likely be required and can be leveraged by private investment. Improvements that may need to be funded entirely by the public sector include:
· Easton Point Park
· Public Boat Ramp (new location)
· Public buildings
· Enhancements to the public realm including:
– Street upgrades
– Intersection improvements
– Street tree plantings
– Relocating overhead utility lines
– Sidewalk construction
– Rail Trail extension
– Installation of street furniture
– Trash recycling opportunities
Additionally, the public sector may need to contribute towards the costs of:
· Utility infrastructure upgrades
· Waterfront walkway / promenade
The Town should expect the private sector to fully fund all improvements proposed for private property.
Assuming this Plan is implemented, what is the fiscal impact to the Town, County and State?
The Easton Economic Development Corporation has engaged the Business, Economic, and Community Outreach Network (BEACON) of the Franklin P. Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University, to conduct an economic, employment, fiscal, and market impact assessment of the Port Street redevelopment project. The BEACON team will prepare economic, employment, and fiscal and market impact estimates of the construction and operational phases of the development plan, estimate the cost of public services for the proposed development, and develop a set of interactive executive dashboards to display, update, and explore study findings in detail. This study will be completed and made available to the public in Mid-November 2016.
What impact will the redevelopment of Port Street and Easton Point have on the existing neighborhood? Will residents be able to still afford their homes?
Given the historic nature of the existing community and the long-standing neighborhood culture in both The Hill and The Bottom neighborhoods connected to the Port Street Redevelopment Area, it is important that the Town implement a housing study in a first phase of the plan. Residents who participated in planning sessions specifically requested measures to protect against gentrification that could potentially displace families who have lived in the neighborhoods for generations. The residents also asked that the considerable history of the African American community in the Port Street Area be documented and celebrated in the overall project. This history will support the cultural attractions and tourism opportunities in the Redevelopment Area.
With regard to the existing subsidized housing units in the area, the Plan supports the retention and improvement of these units. All of the existing subsidized housing units in the community will remain. The Easton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) is committed to addressing the gentrification issue and has retained a consultant to begin an affordable housing feasibility analysis to create new affordable units in the community immediately. In addition, the EEDC, working with area non profit organizations, is seeking other supportive services, including funding for home ownership counseling to assist tenants in the home buying process.
The State Homeowner’s Property Tax Credit Program provides property tax credits for homeowners of all ages who qualify on the basis of a comparison of their tax bill to their income. Anyone whose combined gross household family income is below $30,000 should consider filing an application. Applications can be picked up at the Talbot County Finance Office, 11 N. Washington Street, Easton MD 21601 (Phone: (410) 770-8020).
To help homeowners deal with possible large assessment increases on their principal residence, there is the Homestead Property Tax Credit. The Homestead Credit, which was established by state law, limits the increase in taxable assessments each year to a fixed percentage. Every county and municipality in Maryland is required to limit taxable assessment increases to 10% or less each year.
Technically, the Homestead Credit does not limit the market value of the property as determined by the Department of Assessments and Taxation. Instead, it is actually a credit calculated on any assessment increase exceeding 10% (or the lower cap enacted by the local governments) from one year to the next. The credit is calculated based on the 10% limit for purposes of the State property tax, and 10% or less (as determined by local governments) for purposes of local taxation. In other words, the homeowner pays no property tax on the market value increase, which is above the limit. Homeowners must apply for this credit. For more information about the Homestead Credit, visit: http://dat.maryland.gov/realproperty/Pages/Maryland-Homestead-Tax-Credit.aspx
Some of the properties in this Plan are located in the County. How does that impact the Plan?
Some of the properties that are within the Study Area are currently located outside of the Town of Easton. To implement the goals and objectives of this Plan, the Town should move forward with encouraging the annexation of all such properties at this time. Bringing these properties into Town will give the Town jurisdiction over land use zoning, and development/design within the entire Study Area. Annexing these properties will also allow the Town to rezone them, thereby permitting the development called for in this Plan. Under Maryland law, certain development and or rezoning on annexed property may be limited for a period of five (5) years from the date of annexation, unless the County elects to waive such limitations.
Why does the Plan recommend moving the Boat Ramp?
There is currently a County maintained public boat ramp within the Study Area, located at the western terminus of Port Street. This boat ramp is very important to the community as it provides public access to the Tred Avon River and the waters beyond. The existing boat ramp lacks adequate parking facilities to support the recreational boaters that utilize it. The current location of the boat ramp will also interfere with the public waterfront plaza that is a marquee feature of the proposed Plan. For these reasons, the Draft Plan suggests that the boat ramp should be relocated, and identifies a more appropriate site for the boat ramp. The alternate location is shown on the Master Plan and is generally situated on the southern portion of the Town’s eleven (11) acre property that was formerly the location of the Town’s Public Works Department. This alternate location will allow for other significant improvements proposed by this Plan, while providing an updated and improved boat ramp facility that will benefit the community. Adequate parking facilities can also be created at this alternate site. Equally as important, the proposed relocation will allow the existing boat ramp facility and associated parking to be redeveloped as a prominent and truly great Civic Space.
Will the Tred Avon River continue to be dredged?
The Tred Avon River is a character-defining feature of the Study Area. Maintaining a navigable channel and access to and from the water will be an important factor in the successful implementation of this Plan. Concerns have been raised regarding sedimentation within the channel that serves this area, and the possibility that the water depth could become too shallow to allow for adequate marine access. Dredging the Tred Avon River appears to be a ready solution to address this concern. According to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (“Corp”), the Tred Avon River was last dredged in 1988. The Corp is considering a federally funded dredging project at this location, but their ability to perform this project is subject to the availability of funding, and they have indicated that this area is prioritized well below many other dredging projects that they are currently being contemplating. The Corp has also indicated that their prioritization is based on the volume of “commercial tonnage” that traverse through the area, which is measured based on the weight of cargo. Therefore any reduction in the volume of cargo moving through this area will likely further reduce the priority of federal funding for this project relative to other areas the Corp is considering. The Corp has indicated that with a federal permit, the dredging project can be funded by state or local government, and / or by a private entity. This issue will require further study as recommended in the Plan.
How will this area retain its authentic appeal?
The design of redevelopment and new development within the Study Area will be determinative of the overall successful implementation of this Plan. Interesting building and site designs that are appropriate for the historical context of Easton and the unique character of the Study Area will contribute positively to the successful implementation of this Plan. Alternatively, building and site designs that are not compatible or contextually appropriate may significantly diminish and undermine the efforts contemplated herein. Therefore it is imperative that the Town craft regulations and policies in a manner that permits and encourages development that is consistent with the goals and objectives of this Plan while establishing a “high bar” for the quality of design that is required for any new development or redevelopment activities. In addition, the Plan provides a comprehensive overview of the history of Easton Point and Port Street and makes a number of recommendations with respect to historic preservation to ensure that historically-significant structures are identified and preserved, interpretive signage and facilities are created to celebrate the culture and history, and linkages are established between Easton Point, Port Street and “The Hill.”
Will there be retail on Easton Point and if so, will that retail compete with Downtown?
The Plan does anticipate a small amount of retail to be established on Easton Point. However, that retail is not intended to detract from Downtown. By establishing Easton Point as a waterfront gateway, linkages are planned between the waterfront and Downtown to ensure that visitors will comfortably travel by car, bike, by foot or through a privately run jitney system to explore the attractions and offerings of Downtown Easton and beyond. Several on waterfront restaurants are anticipated and would provide Easton its first waterfront dining opportunities.
Will this Plan negatively impact the environment?
The Port Street Master Plan strives to incorporate environmentally sustainable practices with the goal of being an Eco-District, thus reducing the ecological impact of the built environment. Key objectives include neighborhood revitalization, enhanced community connections, and increased functionality as a high performance environmental showcase. Reduction of carbon emissions, conservation of resources, and reduction of operating costs by incorporating a series of interconnected, low-impact storm-water strategies such as bioswales, bioretention zones, eco-inlets, and permeable pavers in the design are also desired. For existing hardened shoreline, strategies should be used wherever possible to reduce bulkheads and create native, living shorelines. Additional desired goals include establishing a diverse mix of uses, including cultural, housing, retail, and open spaces; improving walkability; and animating streets.
The properties included within the Study Area that are currently outside of the Town of Easton are not served by the Town’s wastewater system, but are instead served by individual on-site septic systems, some of which have failed in recent years. Due to the proximity of this area to tidal water, there is a clear advantage to connecting all of these properties to the Town’s wastewater system. The Town has adequate capacity in their wastewater system to serve these properties, but infrastructure connecting these properties to the Town’s system will be needed. Additionally, because this area cannot be served with a gravity system, some means of pumping equipment may be required. The Town has a strict policy of requiring annexation before wastewater services will be provided; therefore annexation will need to occur prior to connection and the abandonment of the existing on-site septic systems.
There are many opportunities to retrofit infrastructure within the Study Area to address conditions that may improve water quality. The Study Area was largely developed before broad concerns were raised about the impacts of land use on water quality. Accordingly, industrial land uses have been developed in close proximity to the water, with virtually no storm water management features. Furthermore, the Town’s storm drain system along Port Street conveys untreated storm water directly into the Tred Avon River. The redevelopment of the Study Area therefore presents an opportunity to address some of the deficiencies that exist. In addition to protecting natural resources, such practices can assist the Town and the County in reaching their goals and objectives under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load).