Prince George's County officials recently adopted a new economic development program designed to shepherd large business projects through county permit and licensing procedures that often cause delays and financial loss to investors.
The new program comes at a time when local governments in the metropolitan area are competing for major business developments. It is being touted as an answer to bureaucratic red tape that costs big investors time and money.
A large project has to go through agencies such as public works, the county health department, county engineers, the Maryland National Capitak Park and Planning Commision and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission before county permits can be obtained. The waiting period for county permits alone can range from 30 to 60 days, and even longer for large, complex projects, county officials said. The new program will give developers of most large projects priority when their applications and requests come before county agencies, the officials said.
"The quicker we can get a project into the ground and completed, the quicker we can ease the burden on the property taxpayers," said John R. Sundergill, the county's economic development coordinator.
The plan, approved by the county council two weeks ago, already covers 17 projects that have been selected from more than 80. These projects include high-rise office buildings, two major hotels and the expansion of a shopping center. They will receive first consideration for sewer allocation, licenses and permits.
"With backlogs in some agencies, a project on the bottom of a list could be delayed up to three months," said George Smith, a county economist in the Department of Program Planning and Economic Development.
"Although each project will have to go through all the channels as usual, it will be much faster," said Sundergill.
Along with the priority list, the economic development program contains a basic statement about the county's economic and recommendations for future economic planning.
It calls for continued effort to obtain funds for a county convention center and for continuing the county's nationwide search for new investors. A proposal for $20 million in state funds to build a convention center near Largo was defeated in the Maryland House of Delegates last year.
The new program is being pursued in conjunction with County Executive Winfield M. Kelly's "New Quality" campaign to promote "controlled growth" of business and to reduce the property-tax burden on county homeowners, officials said.
Priority projects are selected on the basis of their size, the amount of people they will employ, the type of market they serve, the likely fiscal impact of the project, community support and feasibility, according to Smith, the program's author.
"We were informally helping both large and small business. Now we are going to formalize the process to give more help to those large projects that will benefit the county," said Smith.
Among the projects given the highest priority is the Greenbelt "Golden Triangle," a plan that includes a 20-story office building, a 400-room motor inn, a banquet-type restaurant, several small office buildings, a drive-in bank, a service station and a car dealership.
Another high priority venture is the Springhill Lake project in Greenbelt where developers plan to build five high-rise office buildings in a complex that will cost more than $23 million.
Other projects include the Bowie Town Center project, the Metro East project in New Carrollton, where Shell Oil plans to build a $300 to 400-room hotel along with office buildings, and an extension of the Capital Plaza Shopping Center.
Smith said that very recent projects, such as the new shopping center planned for the Mattawoman area of the county, are not yet on the priority list because land parcels have not been rezoned for the desired purposes.
"We only consider projects where zoning has permitted them to build. We are not getting involved in the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] process," he said.
"We even recommended that a couple of the business not get sewer allocation, but they did anyway," said Smith, who explained that the two outlets were fast food chains, projectss he said were not in line with the county's long-range development goals.
he new economic development program grew out of a bill proposed by COuncilman Francis Francois in 1972. Smith said the bill was adopted in 1972, but by the time the program was written and ready for approval in 1974, county Executive Kelly had been elected and withdrew the plan from consideration. In 1976, the plan was rewritten and resubmitted, but this time the council sent it to committee and they asked for a number of revisions. It was introduced again in January and the county council approved it.