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Editorial: Fast Track offers hope

The O’Malley administration took a much-needed step last week when the governor unveiled a streamlined state approval process for development projects that will generate large numbers of jobs.

But a lack of specifics accompanying the announcement left unanswered questions about which projects will qualify for the process and how effective it will be.

Dubbed Fast Track, the new procedure is designed to allow developers to apply online for expedited review of their plans. State regulators from departments including Business and Economic Development, Transportation, Environment, Planning, Housing and Community Development, and Natural Resources will determine which applications qualify for expedited review.

DBED Secretary Christian Johansson declined to discuss the specific requirements to qualify for Fast Track in an interview last week with The Daily Record’s Nicholas Sohr.

Instead, Mr. Johansson cited Westport, Patrick Turner’s $1.2 billion waterfront development on 50 acres overlooking the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River in Baltimore, as a prime example of a project that would qualify.

Westport includes land already designated by the city and state as priority areas for development, which is listed as one of the top three criteria for Fast Track in the governor’s executive order creating the new process.

The other top criteria are projects that “will produce jobs or economic development that significantly impacts

the state, region, county or municipality” and will require one or more state permits or approvals.

Once granted Fast Track status, the projects would be reviewed concurrently rather than sequentially by the appropriate state agencies.

The efficiency of the entire effort, headed by Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, will be tracked by DBED and StateStat, the data-driven arm of the governor’s office.

Fast Track is the latest initiative in the Maryland Made Easy program launched in January by Gov. Martin O’Malley with the goal of simplifying and expediting the process of issuing state licenses and permits for businesses seeking to begin or expand operations in Maryland while maintaining environmental and smart growth standards.

The approach is in keeping with one of eight recommendations — a simplified and predictable regulatory system — issued late last year by the Greater Baltimore Committee for improving Maryland’s business climate.

The governor echoed the GBC’s language in his executive order, saying that “businesses need continued predictability and efficiency and in government regulations and there is a need to expedite project review, permitting and implementation.”

Could it be that the governor and the business community are getting on the same page regarding this critical issue?

We hope so, but the proof will have to wait until we see whether the results of Fast Track live up to the press releases.

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