Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Green Business Practices are the Focus of Upcoming County Programs

The Department of Solid Waste Management (DSWM) is putting local businesses in the spotlight with two fall programs that focus on local commercial recycling and waste reduction activities. The outreach efforts are intended to provide resources for businesses that would like to reduce their disposable waste stream and also to provide recognition for those that are already operating with a ―green‖ mindset.

Between September 1 and October 12, 2011 any local business, non-profit or public sector entity can be nominated for the County’s Business Waste Reduction and Recycling Award program. This annual award recognizes the efforts of organizations that have taken steps to reduce their impact on the waste stream, through preventative waste reduction practices or integrated waste management strategies. Examples of waste-preventative business practices include ordering supplies in bulk, distributing pay stubs electronically or avoiding disposable items where possible. While such front-end tactics can reduce the amount of waste generated, other strategies, such as equipment and supply reuse, materials exchange programs, composting and recycling, divert valuable resources that would have otherwise been disposed.
According to DWSM Superintendent Phil Harris, in 2010, almost 160,000 tons of waste were generated in Frederick County and sent for landfill disposal; local businesses contributed roughly half of that amount. Harris notes, ―"While much attention has been given to residential recycling in recent years, this awards program is part of our ongoing effort to promote integrated solid waste management practices to the local business community. We are committed to helping local business leaders recycle more and waste lessand to demonstrate that such practices are not only environmentally sustainable but are also economically feasible."
For businesses interested in establishing or improving a recycling program, the County is conducting a free, day-long forum on October 5, 2011; the purpose of the program is summed up in its title, Working Together: Helping Businesses Recycle. The goal is to provide attendees with information and resources for creating a recycling program that meets their particular needs. Dialogue will be facilitated to help identify and reduce perceived barriers to beginning a commercial recycling program.
To address concerns specific to individual sectors—such as retail, hospitality or multi-family housing—attendees will be able to converse with local business leaders who have already incorporated recycling into their enterprise as well as learn from regional recycling experts. Richard Anderson, principal consultant of CQI Associates, will present information on how recycling cooperatives were created in Howard County to assist businesses in arranging recycling collection service in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Local waste hauling companies that offer recycling collection will also be on hand to discuss the existing array of available services. Complete information for both the business awards program and the recycling forum are available on the county’s website, www.FrederickCountyMD.gov/BusinessRecycle. Applications for the award may be downloaded online and submitted by fax or mail. Those interested in attending the forum may register online; there is no cost to attend, but space is limited, so advance registration is required.

These programs are being administered by the Department of Solid Waste Management, in conjunction with The Frederick County Office of Economic Development, Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, City of Frederick Economic Development and the Downtown Frederick Partnership. The Department of Solid Waste Management regularly assists businesses in developing waste reduction and recycling programs by providing technical assistance and outreach support. For more information on commercial recycling and waste reduction opportunities, contact Dave Helmecki, the county’s Commercial Recycling Program Coordinator, at 301-600-7404 or by email to DHelmecki@FrederickCountyMD.gov.

Community Focused on Filling Vacant Buildings

Long-time vacant commercial buildings (and we can all name several), are major nuisances for their immediate neighborhoods and the City as a whole, creating unsightly health, safety, and welfare issues. Such vacancies are eyesores and can result in declining property values, crime, vandalism, loitering, and other undesirable effects. Recent articles in the media have focused on this issue as one that is particularly visible and distressing since there are a number of notable vacancies which current policies, codes, regulations, and incentives have not been effective in forcing renovation and leasing.

It is important to note that the vast majority of the commercial leasable space in the city is occupied by terrific businesses employing nearly 49,000. While commercial vacancies have crept up into the upper teens during the recession and slow recovery, these properties are not the ones causing public outcry for action. Most commercial landlords are focused on minimizing vacancies and routinely invest in their properties keeping them leasable, all in hopes of driving strong revenue. Landlords who don't are often referred to as "slumlords" and their properties eventually become deteriorated and unleasable. There is little understanding for why they choose to allow this to occur, but the reasons they give range from the high cost of renovation including life-safety and ADA improvements to simply feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to reposition derelict buildings. The latter is a good reason for them to consider selling their properties to others who do.

There is a strong correlation between public safety and economically vibrant, healthy neighborhoods with low vacancy rates and capital investment. The City has tried a number of ways to encourage and force delinquent property owners to maintain and lease their properties including recently condemning properties which are unsafe to occupy. What we need now is a well-coordinated, focused set of regulations and incentives to achieve progress.

In an effort to advance this issue, the city administration has announced that a blue-ribbon panel of local property owners, brokers, residents, and staff is being appointed to recommend regulatory and incentive strategies within 90 days. The group is being asked to review current policies, regulations and incentives, as well as to explore best practices from other communities. Many options have been identified by city staff, residents, elected officials and organizations like the Downtown Frederick Partnership which has been exploring the issue. Some of the alternatives include required registration for vacant properties, vacant property taxes or fees for long-time vacancies, land-value tax system, and increased incentives for building renovation and capital re-investment.

We all want Frederick to maintain and improve its reputation as a vibrant and safe community with healthy commercial occupancy rates, jobs, and available retail products and services. For more information check out www.businessinfrederick.com.