Last year, the Prince William County Department of Economic Development announced its biggest win of 1998: Atlantic and Pacific Telecommunications Inc. (ATPAC) said it would move its Chantilly office to Prince William by the second quarter of this year, eventually bringing 195 employees to the county.
But at least three months after the company was supposed to have moved, the land at Virginia Meadows Industrial Park, off Wellington Road just outside Manassas, stands empty. The ground is broken, but construction has not begun. The company has yet to leave Chantilly.
A host of permitting and planning complications have delayed the move, company and county officials say, despite the fact that the county put ATPAC on its vaunted "fast track" permit process for new construction.
"It's taken longer than we expected, but we're unfamiliar with building buildings," said Keith Frazier, chief executive of the Salem, Va.-based company. "Our experience was with southwest Virginia. We got the building approved in three weeks down here."
County officials say they do not understand why the company has not moved yet. But some think the problem lies with a permit process the county has been trying to streamline.
ATPAC, which provides a variety of engineering and wiring services, mostly as a contractor to large telephone companies, was put on the county's priority permit process because the company falls into one of the county's targeted industries--technology.
When a company receives fast-track status, said Eric Mays, a county building official with Prince William's planning office, "that kicks in the process where planning and the Department of Public Works meets with the designer or owner. ATPAC hasn't requested a meeting yet."
Both the county and ATPAC should have been ready for the company to settle in at the expected time, he said. "It's very unusual that when a project receives targeted industry status it takes this long," Mays said. "We don't want a problem with a targeted industry.
Settling permit issues should have taken only 30 days, Mays said. "I don't know why the presubmission meeting hasn't occurred."
Mays said his department conducts "quality control" checks with the building plans, though he does not know if this is the reason the company has not started building yet. One possible factor is that the county won't accept a plan with missing information, he said.
ATPAC was issued a site development permit, an initial step to building, on July 2, according to Susan Rolsch, chief of development services with the county planning office.
"My perspective is we've told you what we can do. If an owner decides to slow down the moving process, we respect that decision," Mays said.
One company official said the county had not accepted plans of the first architect ATPAC chose to use, though Frazier could not say exactly why. ATPAC is now working with its second architect.
After a questioning by a reporter Monday, Mays called ATPAC's new architect to check on the plans' progress. That architect said the firm should have building plans completed within three months.
The county Board of Supervisors hired a Boston-based consulting firm in the summer to review the county's general permit process. The firm concluded the county's process takes too long and said businesses may be scared away because of it.
Officials at the firm noticed that a company in a targeted industry gets through the permit process more smoothly. Companies such as America Online Inc., which will open a 220,000-square-foot technology center in the county, have said that the fast permit process was one of the reasons they decided to locate in Prince William County.
Frazier said the company will make a total investment of $1.6 million to purchase the land and to build the office.
But first, it must start.
"It's been a challenge," Frazier said. "We're still waiting to get approval on the building plans."
Once everything is approved, Frazier said the company's relocation will be "off and running."
"All the financing has been done. We just need to get this thing built," he said. Once the company is given the go-ahead, he said, it will be able to complete the building in 120 days.
That would put the completion date into the first quarter of 2000.
ATPAC plans to occupy six acres of the 95-acre Virginia Meadows Industrial Park with a 30,000-square-foot building. About 70 of those acres still are unoccupied, said Jay Norman Jr., vice president of Norman Realty Inc., a Manassas-based real estate agency.
Much of the space at ATPAC's new facility is slated to be a warehouse area for storing wiring, telephone switches and other equipment.
ATPAC is building the office at Virginia Meadows to keep all operations in Northern Virginia under one roof. The company currently rents space in two separate locations in Chantilly.
Frazier said the company chose relocating the Chantilly offices to Prince William because of the availability of land. Company officials decided to construct a new building because most of the development in Northern Virginia consisted of buildings with an abundant 200,000 square-feet, he said. "If you only need 30,000, why put yourself into the landlord position?" he said.
He said the company favored Prince William's accessibility and price, compared with Fairfax, which he called "too pricey."
"We got some value by going out to the western part of Manassas, which is going through tremendous growth of its own."
In addition to Chantilly and Salem, ATPAC has locations in Grove City, Ohio, and Dayton, Ohio.
Frazier said that he is excited to move the company to the county, and that he hopes it happens soon.
"The permit process is cumbersome," he said. "If you're born and raised in a rural area, [you find that] things are run different there."