Brent Bolin, Councilmember for the City of Mount Rainier, MD is building on the City’s transportation assets to create a more walkable and sustainable community. “There are different eras of transportation history present in Mount Rainier. The City was incorporated as a streetcar town that borders the District of Columbia, and now we have high levels of bus service that have taken the place of the streetcars. We are trying to build on that as a community asset,” said Councilmember Bolin, who is a member of the Maryland Chapter of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council.
Mount Rainier is a historic and diverse community of 8,500 residents with a working class history. Although the City has access to public transportation, it is struggling to fill the commercial spaces on main street. “Redevelopment of our commercial space is our biggest challenge. Rhode Island Avenue is our main street that evolved as a streetcar corridor. We have historic storefronts and infrastructure but these are an awkward fit with the automobile culture that people expect by not living in downtown DC,” says Bolin. “Finding the right mix of small businesses to service the City but also draw people from adjoining neighborhoods has been a big challenge for us. There are a lot of empty buildings on our main street.”
In an effort to fill these vacant buildings, the City is working to redevelop the two largest vacant buildings on the most underutilized blocks of the main street. “We’re trying to get development on both of those sites and use the projects as catalysts to bring businesses into to the smaller spaces. We want to show what is possible in our city, and that Mount Rainier can be a walkable and sustainable community,” says Bolin.
For one of these projects, the City bought the property with debt–financing assistance from Prince George’s County and issued an RFP for a mixed-use development with housing over retail. The project will include 185 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space. Construction on this development is expected to begin in late 2014.
Mount Rainier is also working to become a more environmentally sustainable city. In October 2013 the City adopted an Urban Green Infrastructure Master Plan, which outlines a set of tools to be utilized when selecting and implementing projects to improve and reduce urban stormwater runoff. The Plan was developed using a technical assistance award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Local Government Capacity Building Initiative. The City has also installed bike racks throughout the community, and is working to implement a designated bike route.
In conclusion, Councilmember Bolin offered some advice for fellow local leaders. “Try to as much as possible work with your community members to help them understand your vision. Community redevelopment is really hard. If everybody understands and is bought in to the bigger vision, they will be more supportive when there are inevitable bumps in the road,” recommends Bolin.