Prince George's County officials, eager to shore up their image as a jurisdiction that welcomes economic development, are proceeding with 48 priority projects that some County Council members criticized yesterday as too broad and others as too limited.
The priority developments range from a 24-acre office park in Laurel to the mammoth Maryland Science and Technology Center in Bowie that will include a 400-room hotel, 6.4 million square feet of office space and a conference center.
The priority designation is intended to ease the licensing and permit process for some projects by reducing the amount of red tape they usually entail.
Robert Kaufman, general manager of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corporation, told the council that priority and "red letter" status, granted by the county, is an attractive marketing tool for developers. "It publicly announces what projects in this county are important," he said.
But some council members questioned the exclusivity of such a designation, saying that smaller businesses and individuals could be placed on the back burner while the larger, more attractive projects receive preferential treatment.
"I've had complaints that there are not enough inspectors out there to do the work," said council member Richard Castaldi. "I want to be assured in my mind that we're adequately staffed to handle the small businessperson or homeowner who doesn't have red letter status."
Kaufman said any permit processing glut is the price the county has to pay for its success in attracting quality development.
Castaldi maintained, however, that when that kind of service is given, "somewhere, something is suffering."
Council member Floyd E. Wilson also complained that a majority of the projects listed for special treatment are clustered in the Laurel area with little such preference given to development inside the Capital Beltway and along older retail strips such as Landover Road.
Kaufman said that the county is addressing wider transportation concerns, and many of the projects are located near the Beltway or along other major highways.
The council also accepted a new document that lists further restrictions for priority status. Some council members had previously complained that the special status meant little if anyone could qualify for the designation.
Among other requirements, the revised document calls for affected businesses to prove their projects will provide jobs, create opportunities for minority business participation and preserve historical areas.