- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Plentiful jobs, rolling green hills and relatively easy access to Washington from bucolic Maryland: These are three of the key factors driving Frederick County’s healthy growth in recent years.

As the population has grown to 220,701 — a 13 percent increase over the number of residents counted in the 2000 census — part of the county’s expansion can be attributed to new jobs spawned by the county’s employers, from Lockheed Martin Corp. to Biogenova Inc. to Fort Detrick and many others.

The Frederick County Office of Economic Development [FCOED] reports that from 2002 to 2006, the county was the fourth highest job-creating jurisdiction in Maryland. Frederick County’s annual employment growth rate is 3.02 percent, or 2,584 jobs per year.

The additional jobs will mean that more Frederick workers will desire Frederick addresses, if county officials’ dreams come true. Laurie Boyer, deputy director of the FCOED, reports that some 60 percent of county residents work in-county, but she would like to see that figure nudged even higher.

“As we can get more residents to live in the county, there is a ripple effect that also helps with the traffic congestion and other demands that are put on our infrastructure,” she says.

The FCOED notes that the expansion of Fort Detrick alone over the next decade could total as high as $3 billion in new projects. A new research laboratory for the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases; the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center; and a proposed conference center and hotel are just a few of the federal projects to be constructed at Fort Detrick in the coming years.

What’s more, the fort stands to gain hundreds of jobs as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process initiated by the Department of Defense in 2005.

There’s even an initiative under way to train more people for more construction jobs. Frederick Community College last year received a $1,900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to train nearly 1,000 students in the building trades. With some state projections estimating that 3,000 new construction jobs will be needed in-county through 2012, the grant was described by officials at the Frederick County Builders Association as addressing a local work-force “crisis.”

Yet, even as the job market thrives, county officials and others seek to strike the right balance between permitting new construction and preserving Frederick County’s agricultural roots. About 80 percent of the county is zoned for agriculture, Ms. Boyer says, noting that “there’s still a lot of green space, and a lot of that will never be developed.”

Frederick County is “unique in that there is an adequate public facilities ordinance that has kept the supply of lots modest,” says Jim Fitzgerald, a developer and owner of Fitzgerald Realty Group Inc., based in Frederick. Mr. Fitzgerald’s company is involved in the development of the Century Center, a 180-acre office park under development just off U.S. 15 on the way to Walkersville.

What’s more, a new Tax Increment Financing [TIF] District designation, passed last year by the Maryland General Assembly, allows developers in Frederick County to fund public infrastructure enhancements through the use of property taxes they’d have to pay the county anyway — except this money is earmarked for broadband access, roads and other infrastructure that will be used by the general public, not just occupants of the office park or other commercial development in question.

On the residential front, a supply of age-restricted homes is being developed, Mr. Fitzgerald says. He says one of his current projects involves the sale of 150 lots to a national builder whose name he cannot yet divulge. The houses are slated to be built on a parcel of land adjacent to Frederick’s city limits in mid- to late 2008 and will be restricted to owners age 55 and older.

“The market is very viable out here,” says Gene Buckalew, sales manager for Rivercrest II, a community of homes within Frederick’s city limits that is now being built by Dan Ryan Builders Inc.

“There is a lot of new job expansion due to the government facilities” in Frederick County, Mr. Buckalew says. “There are also new manufacturing facilities and new businesses coming into Frederick. Where the rest of the nation might have a nine-month supply of available homes, we have a four- or five-month supply here.”

The Rivercrest II community in Mr. Buckalew’s portfolio features single-family four-bedroom homes on lot sizes from 6,500 square feet to 10,500 square feet. By and large, “they don’t have big back yards,” he says. “We’ve retooled the types of houses we are building on smaller lots and made them much bigger because the buyer is not necessarily looking for a half-acre lot.”

The homes, which start at $479,900, are available in several models, including the 2,800-square-foot Avalon and the 3,492-square-foot Buckingham. Mr. Buckalew cites the community’s easy access to MARC trains and Interstates 70 and 270 as an additional selling point.

It’s not just new construction that’s available. Figures from the Frederick County Association of Realtors show that for January 2007, 486 single-family homes were listed for sale in the county, 4 percent fewer than in the same period a year ago. Yet at the same time, there were 154 settlements in January 2007 versus 176 in January 2006, which reflects a 12.5 percent drop in closings. Well over half of the homes settled in January 2007 sold for between $200,000 and $400,000.

According to FCOED’s Ms. Boyer, a policy of careful growth is good for the city as well as the county as a whole.

The growth-consciousness alluded to by Realtors, builders and developers helps ensure “that the necessary infrastructure is in place prior to development occurring, rather than allowing development first and having to play catch-up with roads and schools and water” supply, Ms. Boyer says. “It’s a matter of better planning and more proactive planning.”

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