CUMBERLAND — A Cumberland-area commercial development that has run into roadblocks was given the go-ahead to build Tuesday by Hancock County Commissioners.
Commissioners say cutting red tape that slows projects like this one is something that should be done to promote growth along the U.S. 40 corridor, and the discussion Tuesday was just one example of how difficult it can be for businesses to get the approvals to build.
The property at 7300 W. U.S. 40 is owned by Steve Smith, a Florida resident who bought the land more than 10 years ago. Smith plans to place a boat storage facility on the five-acre site; also, a portion of the land was sold to Maaco for a car painting and collision repair shop.
Smith said he wants to start work on the buildings on the site before putting in a street. He said waiting on building the street in particular would help him, because he doesn’t want to build a new surface and then have heavy equipment damage it.
Sam Awad, a representative of Maaco, also said the company also is awaiting county approval to proceed.
The road is private, but county commissioners decided earlier this year it should be built to public specifications because multiple owners will use the site. If the land were to be sold and the county had to take control of the street, commissioners said it should be up to par with how all public streets are built.
That public vs. private difference had the county’s surveyor, highway superintendent and planning director concerned with how the project will proceed. Surveyor Susan Bodkin said normally with public streets, the infrastructure is laid before the buildings are constructed. She suggested Smith issue a bond to ensure the infrastructure would be installed.
But Smith said holdups at the county level are delaying his buildings.
“We’re all in this room and we don’t know what to do,” said Commissioner Brad Armstrong after a lengthy discussion. “I can’t tell you how bad this is for people that want to develop in Hancock County.”
Armstrong suggested the buildings can be built, but the county will not issue an occupancy permit until the infrastructure is installed. He said a bond would have been an unnecessary financial burden for Smith.
Commissioners President Tom Stevens agreed. He was reluctant, saying he was concerned that the infrastructure won’t be built to county standards. But he was also concerned about long delays for the businessman.
“We are basically all public servants. I know we as commissioners try to help move things along,” Stevens said. “I’m thinking it ought to be possible to work out problems in less than 30 days.”
Commissioner Derek Towle was absent.
Business development along U.S. 40 was a campaign platform for Armstrong four years ago. Armstrong, a Republican, is seeking a second term next month, and he said he would still like to see the process of developing along the corridor streamlined.
Armstrong’s Democratic challenger, Mike Merlau, said he also stands for small-business growth. Merlau was not at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting but said later that much like large businesses are given tax abatements, small businesses should be given incentives to locate in Hancock County.
“Let’s do something to encourage small businesses to grow,” Merlau said. “They’re the ones that hire local people.”
Stevens is unopposed in the Nov. 6 election.