The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed new zoning measures on Tuesday that will significantly accelerate and streamline the regulatory process to develop biohealth facilities in the county.
Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 21-09, Office and Professional – Biohealth Priority Campus, was led by Councilmember Andrew Friedson and cosponsored by all councilmembers. The new zoning measure will now reduce the regulatory review process for biohealth facilities by 75 percent or 160 days — the process previously took 600 days.
The qualifying biohealth companies include headquartered facilities or primary places of business with 150,000 square feet or larger and existing facilities that are looking to expand by 50,000 feet or more. The Biohealth Priority Campuses “must be located in the commercial, residential and employment office areas of Montgomery County and near Metro and Purple Line stations, in an opportunity zone, or a half mile from a planned or existing Bus Rapid Transit route,” a press release said.
Friedson and Montgomery County biohealth and economic development leaders held a press conference Wednesday at the outdoor plaza of United Therapeutic Corporation in Silver Spring.
“ZTA 21-09 will provide our county an important economic development tool to help attract and retain biohealth companies. Montgomery County is a premier location for biohealth given our access to the nation’s capital, proximity to prominent federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and our highly educated talent pool. However, we cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to growing our economy,” Friedson said.
Councilmember Tom Hucker acknowledged that these zoning changes are extremely important during a time where the county is experiencing an economic crisis. Montgomery County lost nearly seven thousand jobs from July to December 2021, which represents 38 percent of total jobs lost in the state, according to Hucker.
“We’re an outlier in the DMV region and we don’t have to be. We shouldn’t be, and leaders like United Therapeutics are going to help us turn that around,” Hucker said, adding that United Therapeutics is a “jewel” in the county that does incredible research and groundbreaking work.
Thomas Kaufman, Senior Director of Corporate Real Estate for United Therapeutics, said that the space where the biohealth corporation is now located used to be an underutilized surface parking lot owned by Montgomery County. However, with the shared vision and partnership with the county, United Therapeutics has become a “world class campus” yielding hundreds of jobs and saving thousands of lives through their innovations.
Kaufman said the passage of the recent legislation sends the following message to the biopharma industry: “Montgomery County is a reliable partner who understands the unique needs of the biopharma industry and is willing to do whatever it reasonably can within its power to help us grow.”
The council also approved SRA 21-02, Administrative Subdivision – Biohealth Priority Campus, a companion subdivision regulation amendment spearheaded by Friedson. This amendment allows the creation of a Biohealth Priority Campus category where an applicant can file an administrative subdivision plan instead of a preliminary plan for Biohealth Priority Campus. This grants the Montgomery County planning director to approve and expedite an administrative subdivision plan for biohealth facilities.
“I commend our Planning Department and executive agencies for their willingness to embrace a new review process to advance our economic development goals,” Friedson said. “By green-taping the regulatory review process, biohealth businesses can focus on their research, product development, and trials rather than unnecessary regulatory requirements.”