The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to implement a stimulus program aimed at making it easier for developers to create "pad-ready" sites for commercial and industrial uses.
Under the two-year program, projects to bring undeveloped commercial and industrial sites to pad-ready status will be granted priority plan review, deferment of county fees and a real-estate tax credit once a building is constructed.
Sites for shopping centers and "big box" retailers are excluded from the program.
The program was designed by the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission to improve the county's chance of attracting new jobs and investment to the area, EDC Executive Director Timothy R. Troxell said.
"One of the concerns we have as we try to market Washington County is making sure we have the product companies are looking for, and a lot of times that product is a nice site on which they can build," he told the commissioners.
A site is considered pad-ready when it is at the "buildable development stage," which includes having utilities in place, the grading completed and final engineering for the building pad finished.
Troxell said one developer is currently attempting to bring an 11.8-acre site on Hunters Green Parkway to pad-ready status. Between review fees for stormwater, grading, sensitive area and site plans, that undertaking would cost $6,000 to $8,000 in county fees, Troxell said. Under the stimulus program, those fees will be deferred until a building permit application is submitted to build on the site, he said.
Qualifying projects will receive the following considerations:
- Priority review by Washington County's Development Advisory Committee.
- Deferment of all county review and application fees associated with obtaining site-plan approval until a building permit application is submitted, or the "sunset" date of the program, whichever comes first.
- Waiver of all county renewal fees for maintaining validity of the site plan.
- Minor changes to the site plan, such as a reduction in the building footprint, can be approved by planning officials at the time of building permit application, rather than having to go before the Planning Commission.
- 40 percent real estate tax credit on the increased assessed value of improvements for a two-year period upon completion and occupancy of a building on the prepared pad. (Properties in an enterprise zone are not eligible.)
At the end of the two-year stimulus program, the commissioners will consider whether to extend it, they agreed.
Explaining their support for the program, commissioners William B. McKinley and Jeffrey A. Cline both spoke of the importance of local incentives to give the county a competitive edge in attracting employers.
"We're losing to the north and south of us," Cline said. "We're not competitive."
Some at Tuesday's meeting wanted to broaden the program.
Commissioners President Terry Baker suggested including sites where a building is to be demolished to create a pad-ready site as well as expansions of existing development. EDC board member Ronald Bowers suggested the program should aim to make sites not just pad-ready, but shovel-ready.
The commissioners agreed to implement the program as proposed, but to consider Baker's and Bower's suggestions as future add-ons.
"I think a lot of times in our desire to be all-inclusive ... we walk that very thin line of studying things to death and nothing ever happens," Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said. "Let's go with this, let's get it going, vote this in, and then we can always — we're in charge — we can revisit it time and time again."