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Two ‘Ready in 6’ bills head to Carney

Katie Tabeling
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A new package of bills to advance the Ready in 6 initiative to reduce the permitting burden on development now heads to Gov. John Carney’s desk. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER — Two bills that would ease the regulatory burden on building in the First State, including a major shift in the state’s Preliminary Land Use Services process, now sit on Gov. John Carney’s desk.

House Bills 102 and 104 both passed the State Senate, HB 104 on June 6 and HB 102 in May. HB 104 exempts certain projects from having to go through the PLUS process that coordinates state agencies around development, and is typically the first stop many projects make in the long road to construction. 

HB 102 would expedite the issuance of temporary entrance permits for commercial and economic development projects.

Both sponsored by Rep. Bill Bush (D-Dover) emerged from the Ready in 6 initiative, which is devoted to improving permitting and fast-track project approval for employer prospects. The movement started in 2019 after the Delaware Business Roundtable and other key state leaders heard from site selectors that Delaware takes up to 24 months to issue permits. The industry gold-standard is six months.

Specifically, HB 104 would exempt the PLUS process for projects located in Investment Level 1 or 2 under the Strategies for State Policies and Spending, which are largely constrained to industrial corridors near Wilmington or surrounding Delaware’s major municipalities served by highways. 

These projects would have to be consistent with local zoning and any local comprehensive plan, create full-time jobs and get approval for the waiver by the local government.

HB 104 also would allow developers of nonresidential projects with a total area of 50,000 square feet or more to opt out of the PLUS process, or if the local government of the project would request it. This bill would not apply to residential projects.

“Based on the parameters outlined, a small minority of projects that currently go through plus would have the option to be exempted under [this bill,]” Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos (D-Elsmere/Newport), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said. He led the debate on the Senate floor on June 6. “The municipality ultimately has the final say, once all environmental and other regulatory matters have been addressed.”

However, Sen. Stephanie Hansen (D-Middletown) criticized the bill for potentially curtailing public comment and transparency on large projects coming to the state. She also pointed out that the Ready in Six report projected that cutting the PLUS process would shave off two months of the process.

“I’ve spoken to many developers about the pace of development, and they clearly believe PLUS is an annoyance. But it’s not the real problem, because it’s not where the real time is spent, it’s waiting in line to get on a local jurisdiction’s agenda,” Hansen said.

“There hasn’t been any consideration into whether there are other ways to keep the PLUS process intact while reducing the review time – like running it at the same time as local jurisdiction review,” she added. “This bill removes the ability for educated, meaningful public comment.”

But other senators pushed against Hansen’s argument, noting that towns and counties have several months of public meetings for development projects, and provide public notice online and through the mail. 

Furthermore, Sen. Jack Walsh (D-Stanton) and Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View) worried that keeping business the same would cost the First State more opportunities.

“This is about Delaware’s reputation. We’ve been working on Ready and Six for a couple of years, and businesses want projects that are shovel ready. If we continue down that path, we will just have houses and golf courses,” Walsh said. “We need projects that will bring sustainable jobs to the state, and this is a start.”

“It’s been over a year and a half trying to get a piece of property shovel ready, and it’s still not there,” Hocker said. “I’ve just had one of my future tenants back out.”

HB 104 passed the Senate 18-3, with Hansen, Sen. Russ  Huxtable (D-Lewes) and Sen. Marie Pinkney (D-Bear/Newport) voting against the bill.

Meanwhile, Lorri Grayson, founder and partner of GGA Construction called the passage of HB 104 a big deal while explaining the impact of the Ready in Six on her sector during the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce End of Policy Conference.

“It creates consistency between counties and jurisdictions, because everyone has something different,” she said. “More importantly, you can’t predict how much a project is going to cost after six months. Any developer that comes to this state, you can’t give them a number.”

“I really want to see that change. I’d like Delaware to be the first choice for economic development projects,” she continued.

Meanwhile, two other bills as part of the Ready in Six package put forward by Bush, are still awaiting a hearing. HB 101 and 103 have yet to be heard in the House Economic Development/Banking/Insurance & Commerce Committee.

With the General Assembly tackling business for less than seven session days, it appears unlikely that those bills will be heard.

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