Anthony Piccinini, a longtime Baltimore land investor and developer, says he stands alone in Harford County in planning "for the little guy."
Piccinini is general partner of the Forest Hill Business Center, an 81-acre business park near Bel Air that is offering lots to a variety of small business owners.
"We think we're the only one in Harford County to offer this market," he said. Morton Miller, president of Miller Brothers clothier, is a limited partner in the business center.
The business center, at Md. 24 and Md. 23 north of Bel Air, has been under development for the past two years.
Piccinini is seeking county approval of road construction needed for the next phase of the project, covering 27 acres. Piccinini said he hoped to start the road work early next year.
About 25 acres of the center property, zoned commercial-industrial, have sold so far.
Buyers include Signet Bank, a Pizza Hut franchise, a restaurant to be operated by the Fortunato brothers, a Harford County chain, small distribution and sales operations, and other businesses. Prices per acre range from $85,000 to $150,000.
The owners of the Fisherman's Wharf seafood restaurant chain also have bought a parcel, said Piccinini, who has developed residential properties in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.
He added that he has had contact with a national retail chain that may be interested in buying land at the business center. He declined to identify the chain.
The center property is one of the last big sites in Harford zoned commercial-industrial. The zoning allows a broad mix of office, retail, light industrial and commercial uses.
William Carroll, director of Harford County's Department of Planning and Zoning, agreed that the business center seems to be a good site for small business owners.
But he said county planners opposed the business center plan several years ago because it amounted to an amorphous development, or one without a focus on any particular use. It also is at the northern end of Harford's development envelope, the area targeted for the most intense residential and commercial uses. The envelope, covering the area served by public water and sewerage, runs from Bel Air south along the Md. 24 corridor and along Interstate 95 between Havre de Grace and Joppatowne.
Piccinini's marketing pitch is that he can offer lots of an acre or smaller to business owners who want to own property rather than lease.
He acknowledged that sales have slowed in the past year, with the recession and tight lending policies of banks. Two lots have sold this year and one or two more sales are expected before the end of the year, said William Imperato, the broker for the center.
Piccinini and Miller have invested about $2.2 million in the center so far. Piccinini said he bought the land about 20 years ago. Another $1.5 million is needed to complete the road work for the next phase, Imperato said.