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House passes first half of ‘Ready in 6’ bills

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A new package of bills to advance the Ready in 6 initiative to reduce the permitting burden on development has already passed its first legislative hurdles. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER – The push to lessen the regulatory burden on building in Delaware took a step forward Thursday after half of a new “Ready in 6” package of bills was unanimously approved by the state House of Representatives.

House Bills 102 and 104 would expedite the issuance of temporary entrance permits for commercial and economic development projects and exempt certain projects from having to go through the states’ Preliminary Land Use Services process that coordinates state agencies around development.

Two more bills, House Bills 101 and 103, are a part of the package put forward by Rep. Bill Bush (D-Dover), who has championed the Ready in 6 agenda for the past few legislative sessions.

The former would direct the Delaware Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to co-develop an expedited project approval process for entrance plans and stormwater and sediment plans associated with new development by working with pre-approved consultants. The latter would create a transportation impact fee for planned high-growth areas that would help the state invest in local transportation upgrades.

These proposed measures sprung 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.

Subsequent legislative pushes have been slow to gain support though, often garnering exasperation from state business leaders and developers who see the lengthening permitting process as one of Delaware’s biggest obstacles in job attraction.

House Bill 102 would specifically require state agencies to review a temporary entrance plan within 10 days for permitting of specific major projects.

House Bill 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.

Both have been moved to committee assignments in the Senate, although the legislature is now on break until April 25. HB 101 and 103 are still awaiting a hearing in the House Economic Development/Banking/Insurance & Commerce Committee.

The bipartisan support for the latest bills, the support of the governor’s office and the bills’ comparatively early filing in the General Assembly makes it likely that they will receive a final vote before the end of this year’s session.

Brian DiSabatino, chair of the Business Roundtable and CEO of Wilmington development firm EDiS, told the Delaware Business Times that the package of bills were a good start toward reforming the state’s permitting process. While the entrance permit issuance was “more of a nuisance,” the bills yet to be heard “begin to address the substance of issues that hold back economic development related to land use,” he said.

Business leaders recognize that a coordinated approach, including government and industry, is needed to improve infrastructure to ease development in the state, DiSabatino said. That includes the introduction of some impact fees that would spread the project cost for roads, sewer, water, electric, and more to a number of projects rather than leaving a larger burden for a small handful of projects.

“Asking individual landowners, developers or economic drivers to go it alone isn’t necessarily going to solve the problem. I think having everybody participate in a pool to solve more global issues is the more thoughtful way to approach it,” he added.

The proposed bills will not fully solve the challenges for developing in Delaware though, DiSabatino added.

“We’re all very grateful for what’s been done, but there’s still a lot of work to do especially when you look at neighboring states,” he said.

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