Baltimore County economic development officials will hold a public hearing tonight to give residents and business leaders a chance to voice their opinions on the proposed creation of the county's first enterprise zone.
The 2,370-acre zone would sprawl from the Baltimore Beltway at Pulaski Highway south along North Point Boulevard to the Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant at Sparrows Point.
If the state Department of Business and Economic Development approves of the designation, industries expanding within the zone or enhancing the values of property there would be given tax credits and rewarded for hiring unemployed workers.
The county's economic development director, Robert L. Hannon, said creation of the zone could spur final decisions for several companies contemplating expansion and promote development of vacant parcels.
Residents, however, question why the zone would be limited to industrial development and exclude retail and service businesses.
"Why not open it up wider to other possibilities?" asked Jan Ramsay, president of the North Point Peninsula Community Coordinating Council.
While eastern Baltimore County residents want to revitalize their neighborhoods and encourage business expansion, they have grown increasingly concerned that their communities have become dumping grounds for noxious industries other neighborhoods don't want.
"If that's what they have in mind, we don't want it," Ms. Ramsay said.
Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat who represents the area and favors the enterprise zone, said some constituents have expressed concerns that expanded industries will generate greater truck traffic.
State Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Dundalk Democrat, said he believed it would be a mistake to limit the zone to industries. "There are so many other types of businesses," Mr. Stone said. "We ought not close the door."
But Mr. Hannon said the enterprise zone is better suited to industrial expansions and the county's economic development office will be able to market the program better if it is targeted to the relatively small number of manufacturers in the area.
Tonight's 7:30 meeting at Dundalk Community College will give county officials the first opportunity to explain the details of the plan, solicit testimony and answer questions.
The County Council is to vote next week on a resolution asking the state to approve the zone. The deadline is Monday for the county's application to establish an enterprise zone, after which the secretary of the state's Department of Business and Economic Development will have 60 days to make a decision.
Ten counties and Baltimore City have enterprise zones. Eligible businesses can receive property tax credits of 80 percent of the new investment during the first five years. They also can receive one-time credits ranging from $500 to $3,000 for each new worker hired.