Commercial building incentives urged; Economic chief proposes lower taxes for owners who develop their land


Concerned about a dwindling supply of land available for commercial development, the head of the Howard County Economic Development Authority proposed yesterday a tax program that would reward owners who develop such land -- and penalize those who don't.

Executive Director Richard Story said his office would suggest during the spring's General Plan process that the County Council create a structure that would cut taxes for owners of commercially zoned property who develop or redevelop their land for businesses.

The package would also charge a higher tax rate for those owners who do nothing with their land in an effort to motivate them to sell their land for commercial development, Story said at the third annual Regional Economic Development Forecast sponsored by the Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce at the Hilton Hotel in Columbia.

"This is a sea change, a change of about 180 degrees," Story said, acknowledging the challenges of such a proposal. "But with the next General Plan coming up, we will impress upon our county government to seriously consider this tax incentive to continue the kind of things we are doing now."

The General Plan is a recommended blueprint for commercial, residential and agricultural growth over the next 25 years.

Story and his counterparts from Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's counties discussed the economic health of their respective jurisdictions.

Richard Morgan, president and chief executive of the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp., told the audience that Anne Arundel has experienced a 1,750-room increase in hotel accommodation.

Eight of 12 new hotels are in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport business district, Morgan said, and five more projects are awaiting action.

He said the county has attracted 129 new companies offering 4,576 jobs in 4.5 million square feet of employment space, and also is benefiting from residential growth. "We have a good balance, and we'd like to keep it that way," Morgan said.

David Edgerley, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, said that county has averaged 1.5 million square feet of new office space over the past three years and has approved plans for 75 million square feet of employment space along the Interstate 270 corridor.

Larger only than Kent County in area, Howard has created more jobs since 1990 than any other jurisdiction in the state. Howard's 27,176 jobs are almost 6,000 more than No. 2 Baltimore County.

But Howard planners have projected that the county's residential land will be fully developed by 2015 and that certain categories of commercial property, such as warehousing sites, also will be built out by then.

Besides the tax incentive package, the Economic Development Authority is studying the possibility of dedicating the U.S. 1 corridor as a redevelopment zone.

"By 2015, we can either hang a sign on our borders that says 'Closed for business' or we can re-develop certain areas for new businesses," Story said. "We want the county to be dynamic, diverse, civilized and rich."

Some Howard County Council members said they are open-minded about Story's proposal.

"I share his concern that at build-out we have the appropriate balance of commercial and residential properties," said Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel Democrat. "I'm willing to entertain any plan the authority thinks can take us there."

Allan H. Kittleman, a West Friendship Republican, added: "I don't know if this is the right thing, but this is what Dick is supposed to do. I'm glad he's thinking of ways to help."

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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