City Planning Commission approves site plan for affordable housing at Goodwill building

2018-12-11 | Frederick News-Post

Dec. 11--A plan to transform a historic city building into affordable rental apartments is moving forward quicker than expected with a unanimous site plan approval with a condition that requires project completion in less than two years.

The old Ox Fibre Brush Co. building at 400 E. Church St., which today houses operations for Goodwill Industries of Monocacy Valley, is not in the greatest shape. In 2016, the placement of a historic placement overlay on the property put more restrictions on future development and eventually helped prompt Goodwill to put the building up for sale.

From there, developers with Washington, D.C.-based Hook Properties, along with representatives of the architectural, planning and interior design firm Antunovich Associates and the civil engineering firm Harris, Smariga & Associates, swept in to give the building new life.

"For those of you who have visited this site over the years as I have, you have seen it unfortunately deteriorate," said Chris Smariga, a principal of Harris Smariga & Associates, of the property at a Planning Commission meeting on Monday.

"You don't always see those properties turn over," he continued. "Sometimes they sit vacant, but you have an opportunity today to move forward with a redevelopment of the site that is very exciting."

Planning Commission Chairwoman Barbara Nicklas also commented on the excitement around the project on Monday after commissioners unanimously approved the developers' final site plan, which includes outfitting the roughly 80,000-square-foot brick building to construct between 80 and 85 one-, two- and three-bedroom loft apartments ranging from 500 to 1,400 square feet.

Jake Baum, development manager for Hook Properties, said developers are classifying the project as workforce housing, accommodating residents whose families earn approximately $36,000 to $64,000 annually.

Baum has said developers plan to apply for $11 million in historic preservation and affordable housing tax credits to offset some of the total $30 million construction cost. The credits, he explained, will allow the property to offer lower rents.

After Monday's approval, Baum said the next step is applying for permits, which he expects to obtain by March. From there, construction is slated to take about 12 months to complete, he said.

Baum and Smariga said the construction timeline is shorter than a multi-phased development with new construction because the structure is already in place and the only construction work is improvements, which includes incorporation of historic elements of the late 19th-century building.

The shorter timeline prompted developers to ask for a modification to the site plan that reduces the amount of time it remains valid from five years to two years in an effort to pass all of the schools tests through the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, or APFO.

The APFO is a legislative method that ties public infrastructure to growth for proposed development.

The purpose is to ensure that projects are not completed until facilities that serve it -- including water and sewer line capacity, schools, roads, and other utilities -- are in place or ensured.

According to the staff report, this project passed all of the tests except for the elementary schools test based on five-year projections. In turn, the developers asked Frederick County Public Schools officials to test for two-year projections, which gives them two years to finish the project instead of five, and it passed.

On Monday, the planning commissioners and staff members discussed the requested change, and the commissioners ultimately approved the modification as part of the site plan approval.

Commissioner Alan Imhoff applauded what he called the developers' "unusual request" to shorten the amount of time to finish a project.

"It's gratifying to see someone wants to build sooner rather than later," he said.

Imhoff also commended the developers' vision to retrofit a historic building and said he believes the project could serve as a model for similar projects in the city's historic district.

The commissioners also approved several other modifications on Monday and a condition that requires the developers to pay $85,000 in fees in place of creating recreational park space. Commissioners agreed as well to waive a requirement to plant trees in front of the property, but included a condition that the developers must consult the city's arborist at the improvement plan phase to determine if options exist to do so.

Matt Jones, who lives two blocks from the site and is set to become a planning commissioner next month, spoke against the waiver to plant the trees, prompting the condition. He said that the sidewalk is big enough to accommodate trees and that he believes they could create much-needed shade and provide other benefits.

The building was constructed in the 1890s and soon after, the Ox Fibre Brush Co. began manufacturing brushes there. It continued operations until 1967; two years later, Goodwill moved in. Today, Goodwill still has operations at the building, which Goodwill will move out to make way for the new project.

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