February 17, 2021

County ‘Speed-to-Market’ Initiative Will Ease Regulatory Burdens for Business Development

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A public-private working group that included the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services, its Department of Transportation, Montgomery Planning and private industry is recommending a series of initiatives to streamline business development and growth in the County. The Economic Advisory Group’s (EAG) “Speed-to-Market” Working Group’s initiative would potentially cut entitlement time in half, while ensuring substantive community participation.

The initiative was inspired by the immediate desire to assist businesses that have suffered economic losses due to the COVID-19 health crisis. The long-term impact of the initiative will ease many of the regulatory burdens for development in the County.

The EAG, which is composed of elected officials, business representatives and residents, convened in late 2020 to create an action plan that would identify short- and long-term strategies to address COVID-related and historic barriers to sustained, diverse economic prosperity countywide. Another effort at regulatory reform has started with the County Commerce Cabinet, a 14-member interagency coordination body that will provide additional initiatives to assist with the County’s recovery efforts.

Since many regulatory and permitting entities are involved in the initiative, approval and implementation of the working group’s recommendations will come at various stages. EAG’s intent was to have all entities implement changes as soon as possible.

“I am very pleased that we are finding some ways to help economic development during this difficult time without compromising standards,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “We hope to build on the cooperative spirit that has been created among the various public-sector agencies involved in land-use, zoning, planning and approval processes to facilitate a more streamlined process that we believe will have long-lasting benefits and help in our post-COVID economic recovery.”

The major goals of the Speed-to-Market Initiative will be to streamline the approval process for development projects by consolidating the processes of planning and land-use approvals.

Streamlining/consolidating planning and land-use approval processes: Montgomery County requires three major approvals for development projects that occur over two sequential hearings by the County Planning Board of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). The working group is recommending for certain projects—for example, Strategic Economic Development Projects or projects offering public benefits in excess of standard requirements—one concurrent hearing that would reduce the approval process by as much as one year. This would speed key time to market while respecting community input. Planning staff expects to forward recommendations for the Planning Board’s consideration this month.

Reinvigorate the Development Review Committee (DRC) process: The DRC brings together multiple public and private entities that must coordinate on all development projects. Given the diversity of parties involved, the process can be challenging to navigate in an efficient and timely way. The work group supported efforts to add value and efficiency early in the entitlement review process so applicants can easily identify critical issues and better determine project viability. The group recommended immediate improvement to the DRC process and is committed to provide further actions for improvement by April 30.

Post-approval process integration: The working group recommended a concurrent review framework for post-review process be established for certification to condense the current arduous sequential, item-by-item review process. Improvement of the DRC process would provide more project certainty and efficiency. Further actions for improvement will be provided by April 30.

Revamping the County sign ordinance: EAG recommended that a comprehensive review of the County Sign Ordinance be conducted with the goal of updating it to reflect development and urbanization patterns of the past 30 years. The proposed regulations will be presented to County Executive Elrich and the County Council by May 31.