Loudoun launches process to fast-track commercial real estate projects

September 13, 2012

With the recent launch of a process to fast-track qualified commercial real estate projects, Loudoun officials aim to build on the Board of Supervisors’ pledge to establish a more “business-friendly” environment and broaden the commercial tax base in the region’s fastest-growing county.

A wide range of businesses will be eligible to apply for the county’s “Fast Track” process, which pairs the applicant with a project manager and coordinator in the county’s department of economic development. The county team will help shepherd the project through the review process quickly and efficiently, with the goal of saving businesses time and money, said Robyn Bailey, manager of business infrastructure for the Department of Economic Development.

“It is really emphasizing communication, face-to-face discussion about issues and addressing any questions that come up,” Bailey said. “And working with a timeline established by the applicant.”

The Fast Track approach builds on an existing process, established in 2004 by the previous Board of Supervisors, to help expedite the review and construction of certain real estate projects. Twenty-six approved projects benefited from that modified process, Bailey said.

But the previous process was open only to certain types of developments — office space, industrial use or a hybrid of the two — and there was a requirement that the buildings be at least 75,000 square feet. Now, Bailey said, the process is also open to retail businesses, and there is no square-footage requirement.

The initiative has been championed by members of the Loudoun business community and the county supervisors. Members of the all-Republican board were swept into office last year with a unified campaign promise to help attract more businesses to Loudoun and to establish policies and procedures to help foster their success.

To qualify for the Fast Track process, applicants must have an appropriately zoned site that is controlled by the applicant, as well as a proposed timeline and an organized project team, county officials said. Applicants must provide the county with estimated project investments and a job creation estimate.

Bailey emphasized that the process, although more efficient, does not cut corners. The option is available only to administrative applications — meaning that there is no legislative action required, as the specific use of the land is already approved — and normal procedures, such as environmental assessments, will be conducted as usual, Bailey said.

“All of that is still required,” she said. “No one gets out of a county regulation by going through this process.

Lois Kirkpatrick, a spokeswoman for the Department of Economic Development, said that applicants would also benefit from being partnered with one of Loudoun’s senior engineers for the duration of their review process.

“If there are two or three buildings already on a site, and now there will be a third or fourth one, they would assign the senior engineer who worked on the previous ones to work on the new project,” she said. “That person would have familiarity with the area and the other projects, which speeds up the approval process.”

Generally, a site approval can take up to six months and involve three or four review sessions, Bailey said. Through the Fast Track process, that timeline can be cut in half, with just two review sessions and a conditional approval granted within two or three months, she said.

The conditional approval is a special situation available through the Fast Track process, Bailey said, allowing the applicant to begin preliminary clearing and grading at the construction site before the final legal processes are complete.

“What we understand from these businesses is, of course, time is money,” Kirkpatrick said. “If they have to wait for five or six months to get approved, that’s time when they’re not building, they’re not constructing, they’re not getting things done. If we can cut that down in half, then that just helps them save money.”

In a county statement announcing the Fast Track process, board Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) reaffirmed his commitment to help foster a “business-friendly environment” in Loudoun.

“A key to business growth is encouraging and assisting commercial development opportunities that enhance the tax base,” he said.

Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), chairman of the board’s Economic Development Committee, echoed York’s approval of the new option for project applicants.

“Our goal is to make sure businesses have a successful experience relocating to Loudoun County, or expanding their existing Loudoun operations,” he said.

The renamed process was officially launched Aug. 1, Bailey said, and one application has already been approved.

“We’re very hopeful that this will encourage people to come talk to us,” Bailey said. “It’s going to be based on the economy. It’s not the easiest out there right now to get finance for new construction. But we’re hoping to see many, many more come through.”

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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