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Lawmakers aim to shorten permitting time for big projects

Katie Tabeling

Rep. Mike Smith is proposing a bill that would shorten the permit time for major construction projects in all three counties.. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers are working on a bill that would fast-track the permit process in all three counties, spurred on by the same vision of the “Ready In Six” initiatives to make the First State stronger in economic development.

Rep. Mike Smith (R-Pike Creek) announced this week that he was preparing to file a bill that would require New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties to expedite the permit process for select projects. Named the “Bring Jobs to Delaware Act,” the measure will require projects zoned for offices, business parks, manufacturing or industrial use to be completed within six months.

“The No. 1 need when it comes to economic development initiatives is how fast can they get up and get started,” Smith said in prepared comments. “Time is money, and every day they can’t get up and get started, we make our state less attractive.”

Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View) is co-sponsoring the measure. Across the aisle, Rep. Bill Bush (D-Dover) and Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover/Camden) have reportedly agreed to sponsor the bill. The bill is expected to be filed later this month.

Under the measure, the project would need to create more than 76,000 square feet of new space and must create at least 60 full-time jobs to qualify. Residential or commercial retail projects would not be eligible.

The idea behind this bill is that counties would be mandated to create a timeline for project review, final approval and recording the land use plan and would be contingent on them having received the necessary permits and approvals from state agencies. Municipalities would not be subject to the bill.  

Recognizing that lagging state agency participation could slow the process down, Smith said the bill requires state officials to use their “best efforts to timely review and comment on plans.”

“The state needs to do a better job working with certain projects. This is no criticism of the counties, this is more an effort to partner with counties in order to get on the same page and get things done faster,” Smith said.

These measures follow the cues set 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.

A report issued later that year made many key suggestions in improving the permitting process, including creating a project concierge. Gov. John Carney has already signed into law one measure that sprung from the report: the Site Readiness Fund.

Smith said the Bring Jobs to Delaware Act was not created with Ready in Six specifically in mind, but it shares the same goals.

“My proposal and the Ready in Six initiative reflect a shared vision. We all need to pull together and take action to make our state more business-friendly,” he told the Delaware Business Times in an email.

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