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Greenbelt Advisory Board, June 5

Fine tuning the Greenbelt grant process

Warwick Jones

The Greenbelt Advisory Board met yesterday, its first meeting in the wake of the approval of grants for Greenbelt acquisitions using half-cent sales funding. The grants were approved by the Greenbelt Bank and the Urban Grants Review Committee (UGRC) last month. In accordance with the Greenbelt Comprehensive Plan, the Parks and Recreation (PRC) has also signed off on the urban grants. Both the urban and rural grants now will go before Council for final approval.

Yesterday’s meeting of the GAB was to review the grant process and to make recommendations for amendments. Those of us who sat through the meetings of both the Greenbelt Bank and the UGRC complemented the staff on the smoothness of the process. Staff had the major task of aiding applicants and assuring that all necessary documentation was included in the application packages.

As a member of the GAB that shaped the Greenbelt Comprehensive Plan, I confess to pleasure seeing the process work so well. However, it was not perfect and staff made a number of recommendations for amendments. Although members of the GAB voiced approval, a quorum was not present and no vote was taken. Voting will await the next meeting where hopefully a sufficient number of members will be present.

The proposed amendments were not major. It was the GAB’s wish that they be made before the next round of applications scheduled to begin on June 15
They were:

The initial application need not include a formal valuation of the property or easement rights. However applicants needed to provide “adequate” substantiation of market value. This could be a realtor’s opinion or an informal opinion by a valuer. The reason for the amendment was the high cost of a formal valuation and the heavy burden for some applicants. Staff in support of this recommendation said that the UGRC could still call for a formal valuation. But more important, the County always does it own valuation of properties before releasing funds. It would do so regardless of whether there is an independent valuation or not.

Applications for urban grants in the urban unincorporated areas can proceed without initial County endorsement. The Comprehensive Plan called for the endorsement of urban grants applications by the municipalities, or the County in the case of unincorporated areas. As the County has to ultimately sign off on the application, the initial approval for the unincorporated areas was redundant. The County’s endorsement at the initial stage led some applicants to believe the grant had been approved.

The policy of not allowing applications for minor improvements be endorsed. Apparently there were requests to finance minor improvements and in particular from one municipality that because of its population was only entitled to a small amount for urban greenbelt funding. It was implied that it may never be able to apply for a grant to simply purchase land or create an easement. For a number of reasons, but largely because of the precedent such a change would create, there was opposition to any change of the GAB view that funds be used essentially for land or easement purchase.

If the applicant were a non-profit organization, it must provide documentation of its status in the application. Previously, this was required subsequent to the initial approval.

Only complete applications should be considered. During the first round, applicants were allowed to amend and fine tune applications up to 30 days after the application deadline. “This process allowed applications to be submitted piece meal and became difficult to manage”. It was probably the main reason when the final applications arrived before UGRC with little time for consideration.

The number of copies to be submitted of the application be reduced from 25 to 10. The provision of 25 copies was onerous and expensive. Staff concluded that it could get by with 10 copies. Some of us suggested that applications should be in electronic format such as PDF. The Chairman opined that this was fine for such entities as the non-profits that had the resources and ability to create electronic documents. But it was beyond the ability and fiscal scope of some of the other applicants. Such a requirement would be an imposition. So it was suggested that submissions in electronic format be “encouraged”.

Warwick Jones is a member of the GAB