- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

These days, some of the famous “clustered spires of Frederick” immortalized in John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem might well be construction cranes.

Several large development projects are under way, and local real estate agents who’ve been struggling against a tide of unsold residential inventory say the market here is picking up steam.

At the RE/MAX 100 office in Frederick, “we have listing boards, and we have sales boards,” says Realtor Elaine Koehl. In early 2007, perhaps for the first time since July, “the number of units sold was higher than the number of listings,” she says.

Indeed, new city residents are drawn to what Jim Fitzgerald, developer and owner of Fitzgerald Realty Group Inc., called “the charm factor” of the place, second only to Baltimore in size among Maryland’s cities.

While Ms. Koehl admits to harboring fears that Frederick “is going to be spoiled” as more people move in and more buildings are built, she understands the city’s great appeal. A resident since 1977, Ms. Koehl admits that as a young newlywed transplanted from Bethesda, she “couldn’t afford to buy anything.”

“I came here kicking and screaming,” she says with a laugh. “But I didn’t live here one year before I was completely smitten.”

She compares Frederick to Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood.

“It has wonderful architecture,” she says. “It has history, like the Barbara Fritchie House and the [burial place of “The Star-Spangled Banner” composer] Francis Scott Key. And I like that we are still very agricultural.”

While some 80 percent of the county indeed is zoned for agriculture use, according to the Frederick County Office of Economic Development [FCOED], new construction is under way, including current projects such as Rivercrest II — a Dan Ryan Builders Inc. project — and the Baker Park View town homes.

“Frederick is very growth-conscious,” says Gene Buckalew, sales manager at Rivercrest II. “The city doesn’t want to grow too quickly, but they don’t want to stifle new home building, either.”

Don Ardinger, general manager at H.F. Payne Construction Co. Inc., a regional builder based in Monrovia that builds in five counties in Maryland and one in Pennsylvania, says his firm has four high-end town homes going up on a lot overlooking Frederick’s Baker Park. One has been sold already.

Mr. Ardinger says the properties, priced at between $1,000,000 and $1,400,000, have four levels and close to 4,000 square feet of living space. They feature two-car attached garages, hardwood flooring and energy-efficient windows. In addition, some have turrets and observation decks to better appreciate the water view. “Carroll Creek runs right by,” he says.

“Frederick has a very nice historic district, with a lot of 100-year-old town homes being bought and refurbished,” Mr. Ardinger says. “The market has been very good to that type of product.”

Additional incentive for this kind of refurbishment comes in the form of redevelopment tax credits, which officials at the FCOED say have helped reduce blight. The credits are offered to developers who rehabilitate buildings that stand empty rather than developing a new one on a patch of green field or knocking something down and replacing it with new construction.

Nonetheless, Mr. Ardinger says that Payne Construction saw a new kind of development opportunity for a desirable piece of land the company purchased downtown.

“Because of everything that is happening downtown, [such as the opening of] the new restaurants, we felt that it would be interesting to try to do something upscale and to put high-end town homes on this great piece of property,” he says.

Since ground was broken on Dan Ryan’s Rivercrest II in early 2006, 23 properties out of a planned 50 have been sold. Some 15 homes have been built so far.

Frederick’s growth is only going to increase, Mr. Buckalew says.

“Right behind Rivercrest is a piece of property that has just been rezoned for about 400 housing units,” he says. The word is that a combination of single-family homes, town homes and apartments is slated for this tract. It is not a Dan Ryan development, incidentally.

A mixed-use development long planned for the banks of Carroll Creek Linear Park is at last taking shape, says Laurie Boyer, deputy director of the FCOED.

Spanning about four blocks along the waterway, the development, whose grand opening was celebrated in October, will include retail stores, offices and condominiums just yards from the painted trompe l’oeil mural on the Community Bridge spanning Carroll Creek. Its startling realistic “stonework” has been delighting visitors for nearly a decade.

“There are already some businesses in the office buildings and tenants in some of the condos,” Ms. Boyer says. An ice cream parlor and a Maryland-based franchise sports bar may open within a few months, she says.

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