August is usually a recess month for the Howard County Council. Urgency arising from the historic Ellicott City flood in late July, however, saw the council called into emergency session four times during the off month.
Aside from legislation to extend a declared County State of Emergency beyond the seven-day limit authorized to the county executive in the County Code, the council was also called on to consider legislation to waive certain licensing and permit fees to offer relief to displaced business owners.
In a letter published in his monthly District 1 Community Newsletter, Council Vice Chair Jon Weinstein acknowledged assistance that came from nearly every county department, volunteers, state and federal government, surrounding counties, and the states of Pennsylvania and Colorado.
“Because of the combined efforts of all these folks we are now seeing, in this short period of time, the first stores reopening,” Weinstein said. These include the Wine Bin, Judges Bench, Ooh La La Salon and a few other businesses that were able to resume operations outside of the major construction area.
The first three weeks after the flood were focused on cleanup and emergency repairs, he said, adding that the focus would shift to gas line and other critical infrastructure repairs, as well as more substantial temporary repairs during the next three weeks.
“This is really just the beginning of a long-term effort to repair and rebuild,” Weinstein said. “Patience and flexibility have been the key so far and will continue to be going forward.”
The Historic District “will not and cannot be the same” when the long recovery process is complete, he said. “Some businesses and residents will not be able to rebuild or wait until repairs to their buildings are complete; they will have to move on.”
Turf Valley, which sustained damage to several holes on its golf course and lost a number of bridges, stepped into the void to offer operating space in its Willows rooms, free of charge, to some of the displaced Main Street shops.
According to Turf Valley spokeswoman Regina Ford, the 11 shops expected to operate out of Turf Valley include Southwest Connection, Still Life Gallery, Boliwalou, Zebop, Simply Divine Boutique, The Vintage Vault & Gallery, Sue Langert, Matcha Time Cafe & Gift Shop, Syriana Gallery, Park Ridge Trading Company and Attic Antiques.
“They are so appreciative to be in the space and be able to meet and talk to customers again,” Ford said.
The shops are expected to be open Friday through Sunday through the second week in December.
“Having a gem like historic Ellicott City so close to the resort has certainly been a wonderful asset, and we want to do as much as we can to help the merchants who lost so much,” said General Manager Pete Mangione. “I don’t know that I can offer any additional words of encouragement that will make what lies ahead any less daunting. All I can say is that I’m glad I live here and I’m honored to be part of this community, and we will always be EC.”
Customers can check the Resort’s Facebook page for updates on stores and opening times, Ford said.
As for the damage Turf Valley sustained, “The golf course has never looked as bad as it did after the flood, when much of it resembled one big water hazard,” Ford said. “As of this time all of the damage has been repaired.”
At a public hearing to consider emergency legislation, Ellicott City Partnership Vice President Tom Coale approached the council to request that the partnership be designated the nonprofit liaison for the recovery effort.
Another nonprofit, the Howard County Arts Council (HCAC), began an effort to establish the Re-Create: Ellicott City Artist Relief Fund to aid displaced artists on the road to recovery.
HCAC opted to extend its current exhibit, Paint It! Ellicott City 2016, which showcases artwork created during the July 2016 plein air paint-out, through Sept. 30 and donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of artwork to the fund.
Several Paint It! artists pledged to donate 100% of their sales to the relief effort.
The arts council announced it was also seeking a funding partner to match donations to Re-Create.
In a news release, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that Maryland businesses and residents affected by the flooding could apply for low-interest SBA disaster loans made available in response to a letter from Gov. Larry Hogan requesting assistance. The declaration covers Howard County and the adjacent counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s.
The Howard County Council unanimously passed Council Bill 58-2016, which waives certain permit, licensing and Health Department fees.
According to a county council release, the relevant permits could cost between $20 and $200. Some of the more common permits include building, fire, electrical, sewer, plumbing, HVAC and food service categories. The fee waiver is retroactive to Aug. 1, and will continue through Dec. 31 this year.
“We are trying to minimize the impact for everyone affected, and the fees that we are waiving can make a difference for some property owners,” said Weinstein, who represents Historic Ellicott City. “Every part of the Howard County Government is here to make sure recovery in Ellicott City and other areas in the county are not impacted by additional costs.”
“Our hope is that the focus will shift away from the stress and worry that arises when trying to find the finances to pay for fees and permits, and allow those impacted to begin re-envisioning a beautiful tomorrow for historic Ellicott City,” said Council Chair Calvin Ball.
Before entering its August recess, the county council unanimously passed a measure submitted by County Executive Allan Kittleman calling for approval of a 10-year grant agreement between the county and the Howard County Housing Commission that would establish a Non-Profit Center in Howard County.
Kittleman hailed the council’s approval as “a major step in providing greater access to critical services for county residents.”
The $2.4 million allocated during the next decade by this legislation will help create a space where multiple nonprofits will be located under one roof, that is centrally located and served by public transportation, he said.
Finally, Ball introduced legislation in August requesting that the Howard County Environmental Sustainability Board expand the scope of its report on the Howard County Public School System’s mold issue, which was initially requested in a previous resolution.
Under that resolution, the Department of Public Works contracted with environmental consulting firm Skelly and Loy to conduct air quality assessments in 12 schools to examine for the presence of mold.
Ball’s new resolution would expand the scope of the Sustainability Board’s review to include the latest studies, as well as Skelly and Loy’s recommendations based on the findings.
“There is confusion and concern in the community over the latest findings,” Ball said. “I am hopeful that the independent review by the Environmental Sustainability Board will help interpret the results and help clarify next steps to ensure the health and safety of our students and school system employees.”