Plan seeks to add jobs U.S. 1 redevelopment for warehouses, offices under study by county

Developable sites lacking

Proposal would bring work for residents, ease tax burden

November 16, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

As you drive along U.S. 1 in Howard County, it is very quiet -- except for the tractor-trailers and trucks going by. Instead of houses and shopping malls, there is a mix of abandoned buildings and foliage.

But this month, county planning and economic officials are considering a plan that could make the U.S. 1 area a center of work for residents -- and kick off a wave of expansion.

Recognizing that viable space for development in the county is diminishing, a 13-member task force has been examining commercial redevelopment. The idea is to take out-of-date buildings or unused sites and turn them into office space or warehouses.

"There is nowhere else for businesses to go," said Richard Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority and head of the task force.

Officials expect that by 2015, the county will have no vacant land for new building, with much of it having been filled with residential communities.

But Neil Shoritz, executive director of BWI-Business Partnership Inc., said development shouldn't stop there.

"Now we have to provide jobs for those residents," he said.

He and others say office buildings are the answer, noting that the area's highly educated population creates a demand for employers, who would offer convenience for residents. About 80,000 Howard commuters travel to Baltimore or Washington, compared with 50,000 who live and work in the county. About 60,000 people in the region commute to jobs in Howard County.

In addition, unless a house in the county is worth more than $290,000, its property taxes do not pay for the public services its occupants use. If businesses are brought in, they could pick up some of the tax burden.

"A square foot of commercial [space] depends less on government services than a square foot of residential. Businesses don't use things like schools," Story said. "It would be a no-brainer to provide those people jobs and use less of their cars."

Businesses outside Howard County seem to like the idea of business redevelopment as well, saying Howard County's central location and roads provide convenient access.

"Our primary reason for moving is geography," because the county is in the center of the state and between Baltimore and Washington, said Frank Monius, assistant vice president for administration for the Maryland Hospital Association, which is building a 27,000-square-foot office complex at U.S. 1 and Route 100. "We wanted somewhere convenient for all our membership."

The 70-employee organization has been based in Lutherville for 25 years.

But nearly everyone concedes there is a major drawback to attracting more businesses -- traffic. Having more commuters stay within the county -- and more coming in from the region -- could create more congestion and make maintaining roads more costly. Many proponents are also aware that with new offices come more service businesses, such as restaurants, banks, malls, dry cleaners and post offices, which could create overdevelopment.

"There have to be certain constraints," said Kent Humphries, president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Food Center, which has been based on U.S. 1 since 1989. "You have to do it in a smart, businesslike fashion."

Officials plan to have a public discussion of their redevelopment proposal for the U.S. 1 corridor before it reaches County Executive-elect James N. Robey.

Redevelopment became popular nationally in the 1980s, when areas such as Howard County used up development space. Baltimore and Montgomery counties are completing redevelopment plans.

Howard County was given an additional incentive last year, when Pentagon officials cut 20,000 jobs from two dozen offices and agencies, including the Fort Meade-based National Security Agency. That created more vacant buildings along U.S. 1.

And what does Shoritz believe will be the next step after redevelopment?

"Re-redevelopment."

Pub Date: 11/16/98

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