ELKTON — Cecil County wants to expand its enterprise zones by more than 30%, with most of it encompassing a Stewart Companies property and part of the planned Southfields mixed-use development.
Looking to continue its steady success, Elkton and Cecil County officials seek to include 1,788 acres of land around the county seat and along the U.S. Route 40 growth corridor in the county’s enterprise zones. That would tack onto the 5,540 acres of land already in the program. County Executive Alan McCarthy’s administration was looking to fast-track legislation to apply for the state designation, holding a public hearing on Oct. 1 and having the Cecil County Council vote immediately afterward.
That plan was rebuffed Tuesday night, however, as Council President Bob Meffley announced during the legislative session that the council would not vote on the same night as the public hearing. Officials reported that the council would consider the proposal at its Oct. 15 meeting instead.
Meanwhile, about 20% of the land proposed for the enterprise zone is within Elkton town limits. Elkton is proposing similar legislation and will hold a public hearing Wednesday, Sept. 4. The Board of Town Commissioners must approve that designation in the town.
“This is a rather large expansion of size and scale, but we have a lot of interest in Cecil County,” said Sandra Edwards, county economic development manager. “We have incredible pressure at this time for economic development. This program is key to business attraction; we that hear from the developers and from companies considering locating here.”
The enterprise zone program provides real property tax credits against increases in assessments for up to 10 years for those that make investments in the property. It also includes a state income tax breaks, and businesses could claim a one-year credit per employee in new positions. That credit is generally $1,000 but can increase if the worker is economically disadvantaged.
Cecil County has successfully leveraged the program, among other federal, state and county incentives, to land major projects like Lidl, Smithfield Foods and Great Wolf Lodge.
In the legislation, the 1,788 acres were selected either based on interest from property owners or by the county looking to logically expand existing enterprise zones, Edwards told the Whig. The county also consulted with Elkton town officials about what to propose to include.
The largest parcel earmarked for the enterprise zone expansion is 622 acres north of Principio Business Park. The land is owned by a York Building Products, a Stewart Companies business, which also owns the business park. Stewart Companies was also one of the largest donors for McCarthy’s executive campaign in 2014, as several critics of the latest proposal have noted on social media.
Southfields would also be included in the enterprise zone, with a combined 299 acres. The mixed-use development includes single-family homes and apartments, recreation, retail and — most controversially — 250 acres for light industrial use.
Southfields’ future industrial area, which is parallel to Maloney Road, would entirely be included in the enterprise zone under the proposal, Edwards said.
County council leadership wanted some answers about Southfields before the council votes on the enterprise zone expansion. To meet the Maryland Department of Commerce’s deadline, the McCarthy administration recommended expediting the legislation for a final vote on Oct. 1.
“When you say enterprise zone, we know what that is. The public doesn’t,” Meffley said during Tuesday morning’s council work session. “I think there’s not a lot of information out there, and somehow we need to clarify this. Otherwise we’re going to get our heads handed to us if we try to expedite this.”
Council Vice President Jackie Gregory wanted more analysis of the financials behind the enterprise zone specific to Southfields. However, Edwards reminded them that so far, there has not been a final word on who would be working in the industrial component.
“If this doesn’t go through, maybe we wouldn’t see development in 10, 20 years in some of these properties,” Edwards said.
She pointed out that eventually the county would get its property tax back after the 10-year credit has passed.
“If you look at it over a long time, that collection we do get back from the state is better than the zero that we’d collect if we don’t have development,” she added.
Notable people and businesses that hold property considered for the enterprise zones are former Council President Robert Hodge and Williams Family Automotive.
Hodge, or his limited liability corporation, owns four parcels along Route 40 and Red Toad Road in North East, while Williams Family Automotive owns two parcels along Route 40 in Elkton. David Williams is a co-owner of Williams Chevrolet and on the board of Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government, a political action committee that backed McCarthy when he ran for county executive.
The other properties up for consideration for the enterprise zone include 395 acres north of Triumph Industrial Park, owned by an LLC formed by Elkton attorney Will Riddle; the Big Elk Mall shopping center, owned by the Cordish Company; more than 100 acres off Baron Road, owned by an LLC connected to B&H Auto owner Richard Polansky; more than 60 acres along Route 40, owned by an LLC connected to David Wherry; and a Route 40 parcel near the Southfields project that could have been the first Lidl grocery store in the county
Elkton will hold a public hearing on the enterprise zone expansion at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, at the Elkton Municipal Building, located at 100 Railroad Ave. in Elkton.
The Cecil County Council will hold a public hearing on the same matter at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, at the Cecil County Administration Building, located at 200 Chesapeake Blvd. in Elkton.