Industry Watch

INDUSTRY WATCH

August 01, 2004

Wicomico County Council approves zoning code

The Wicomico County Council approved a new zoning code last month, the first major changes to the county's development law since the 1960s.

The changes are the culmination of a year of review by county planners. They picked up a process that started when the council formed an advisory committee to examine updates in 2001. The changes were prompted by the council's passage of a comprehensive plan in 1998. Zoning must conform to the ideas laid out in the plan.

Property owners who operate businesses that don't match their zoning designation can now request that their property's use be switched.

"Without [the change] there is no alternative," said Jack Lenox, director of planning and zoning for Wicomico.

St. Mary's sprucing up near naval station

St. Mary's County plans to raze a crumbling housing development in the flight path of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, part of a countywide project to clean up the area before the next round of military base closings.

The county has undertaken a $14 million redevelopment of hundreds of apartments known as Lexington Manor, one of several projects under way to convince the military that a healthy community surrounds the base.

Roads around the base were widened and schools were funded, among seven priorities the county set for improving the region and preparing it for the next round of base readjustments next year, known as BRAC.

County leaders are trying to do all they can to protect the base, known as Pax locally, from any changes. It is a major source of jobs for St. Mary's. One study estimates it drives as much as 80 percent of the county's economy.

Paperwork is a hurdle for reluctant refinancers

In April, when 30-year loans averaged 5.89 percent, Bank of America Corp. surveyed 300 homeowners who were paying 7 percent or higher on their mortgages. One-third said they believed that refinancing would not save them enough money.

About 23 percent of those survey voiced concerns about closing costs.

The biggest complaint: 43 percent said they were daunted by the time consumed in gathering all the necessary documents.

Google Effect drives Calif. housing higher

As if the California housing market weren't nuts already (the statewide median home sale price hit a record $382,000 in June), now we have the Google Effect.

Real estate agents in Silicon Valley say that the mere anticipation of what will ensue when the Google search engine company goes public is making a hot real estate market boil over.

That's because about 200 Google employees stand to become instant millionaires by exercising their stock options after the Mountain View company goes public sometime in the coming weeks, according to reports in the San Jose Mercury News. Hundreds more employees also stand to gain significantly.

The paper reports that non-Googlers are buying in something of a panic because they fear that the newly minted rich will drive Silicon Valley prices higher, and that some homeowners are just keeping their homes off the market or clinging to their high asking prices until the Google money hits the market.

In a related circumstance, the ranks of real estate agents swell when a market heats up, as is happening in Hawaii. The island of Oahu has seen such a jump in the number of real estate practitioners that there are now about 4,700 licensed agents and brokers scrambling to get a piece of 2,700 listings.

From Associated Press and Chicago Tribune reports

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