Planning panel to begin debate on proposal to speed approval of business development

Aim is more funding for schools, services

March 29, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Pressed by the county commissioners, Carroll's planning panel begins debating a proposal tonight for accelerating the approval of commercial and industrial development -- at the cost of stripping the panel of much of its authority.

Under a proposal drafted by Ralph Green, director of the county permits, inspection and review department, commercial and industrial projects involving less than 20,000 square feet would be exempted from review by the planning commission. Those that affect less than 5,000 square feet would be exempt from landscaping requirements.

The commissioners hope to ease restrictions on business growth to help pay for new schools and increased police and fire protection, services demanded by residential communities that have sprung up during the past several years. Carroll's population has grown about 11 percent in the past six years, to 153,000.

Residential growth has far outpaced commercial and industrial expansion, the types of projects that generate substantial tax revenue. Carroll's business tax base of 12 percent is the lowest in the Baltimore region.

"In the past, there was a perception that Carroll County was not business-friendly. This proposal would help change that," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who supports the plan for accelerated approvals.

If the commissioners adopt Green's proposal, it would mark the second time county leaders have reduced the planning panel's authority. Last year, the commissioners told panel members they could no longer automatically examine site plans for development projects.

Since taking office in December 1998, the commissioners have made economic development a priority. They hope to rezone 14 properties totaling about 1,500 mostly rural acres -- properties the planning commission last year judged unsuitable as industrial sites.

The rezoning is expected to take about 60 days. Then the commissioners are expected to begin a comprehensive rezoning of the county, a process that could take up to three months.

"The bottom line is, we need more industrial land," said Jack T. Lyburn, county economic development director. "Without it, we will not be able to attract large businesses."

The commissioners have said the countywide rezoning, coupled with Green's proposal, would help them create "business-friendly government processes and fee structures."

About a year ago, the commissioners asked Green to assess the county's review process, including fees the county charges developers, which can total more than $4,000 per project.

Green has suggested reducing by half building permit fees for small-scale commercial and industrial projects. That proposal would cost the county about $168,000 in fees in the year beginning July 1.

Dell has suggested that the county slash all fees for commercial and industrial building projects. The commissioners have not discussed his proposal, but seem pleased with Green's.

"I'm ready to vote," Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier has told her colleagues during work sessions on Green's proposals.

A former member of the county planning commission, Frazier has said she would like to see more businesses move to the county and believes the development review process needs to be simplified.

The planning panel will discuss Green's proposal, then make a recommendation to the county commissioners.

The work session is scheduled at 7 p.m. in Room 003 of the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St. in Westminster.

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