Wormald Lot

Ed Wormald, Wormald Homes co-president, a Frederick-based development company, sits atop the All Saints Street Parking Garage overlooking the the empty gravel lot to the right that has sat vacant since they purchased the land in 2003 with the intention of building a luxury condominium project. Numerous setbacks have help the project up.

It’s no secret that downtown Frederick is a desirable place to live.

From 2018 to 2019, the highest concentration of sold properties in Frederick County centered on downtown Frederick, said Amanda Addington, president-elect of the Frederick County Association of Realtors. The largest number of leased properties centered there, too, based on data from MLS, an online listing system used by Realtors across the country.

There’s so much demand that the housing supply can’t keep up with it. Right now, downtown Frederick has roughly two to three months worth of inventory, Addington said.

In other words, if sales continue at their current rate, the area will run out of homes in a matter of months. A balanced market typically has about six months of inventory, she added, which classifies Frederick as a “seller’s market.” And in a seller’s market, prices tend to rise.

“There are buyers who just can’t afford to be downtown however much they’d like to live there,” Addington said.

But building homes that are affordable for most buyers can be just as challenging.

Regulations and restrictionsAn empty gravel lot to the right of the All Saints Street Parking Garage downtown looks inconspicuous but for a neatly lettered white sign.

“Wormald,” it reads. “Love where you live.”

Wormald Homes, a Frederick-based development company, purchased the lot in 2003 with the intention of building a luxury condominium project. Despite having final site approval, there was a setback in 2002 when the city declared a temporary water moratorium, said company co-president Ed Wormald. Once the water became fully allocated in 2006, they faced another setback when the housing market tanked, causing condo values to plummet.

The lower condo sales prices and the newly imposed pre-sale restrictions from banks made the project economically infeasible. By the time the housing market stabilized almost a decade later, condominium sale prices had not recovered to their former values.

“Now we are attempting to proceed with the project in a similar manner to the original massing, but there are regulations the city has in place that make it extremely challenging,” Wormald said.

The city’s height restrictions — a maximum of 75 feet, or roughly six stories, in the downtown business district — hurt a little. The city’s density restrictions, at 75 units per acre, hurt a lot.

In an ideal world, the company would build 225 units on the parcel, a considerably dense development for downtown Frederick. Under those circumstances, Wormald said, he’d provide a mix of studio and one-bedroom units — smaller spaces that would naturally command lower rents, even with adhering to the city’s height limits.

But because of the city’s density restrictions, the company is limited to 127 units.

That might sound like a lot, but construction can become incredibly expensive, said Chris Kline Jr., founder of Frederick Commercial Real Estate.

Due to density restrictions in the zoning ordinance, the condo building had to consist of large luxury condominiums due to the ever-increasing construction cost of mid-rise buildings, Wormald said.

Just take parking. To avoid cutting into available lot space and further reducing the number of units, the best option would be underground parking, Wormald said.

Constructing an underground parking structure costs roughly $35,000 per parking space, given the need for a forced ventilation system, large sump pumps for groundwater, and other requirements. The Carroll Creek Overlay District requires 1 percent expenditure for public art and participation in the linear park improvements, further making the cost prohibitive, Wormald added.

The parcel is also included in the downtown historic district and subject to specific construction requirements, which tend to raise the cost of a project by 10 to 15 percent, and are hard to estimate prior to approvals, Wormald said.

There are additional approval fees, rental fees, and off-site improvements, not to mention the interest on the property and eventual construction costs. When the Downtown Frederick Partnership ran a cost estimate for a much smaller new infill development — 24 new apartments at 3,200 square feet — the total project cost was more than $7 million.

“If the zoning density requirement was changed, we could construct 80 percent more units at a much more affordable price per unit,” Wormald said. “The regulations force us to produce less affordable luxury product whether we want to or not.”

The Downtown Frederick Partnership’s 2017 Live Downtown Frederick Case Study Report summarized “the current City practice discourages investment in smaller unit sizes.”

“The city wants more households downtown and developers want more households downtown, but the density limitations cause an artificial limitation restricting both parties from achieving their shared goals,” Wormald said. “Downtown development should be limited by massing and parking, not zoning density. By doing so, more affordable housing will result.”

It also helps to explain why a piece of prime downtown real estate has been vacant for the last 16 years.

“It’s ultimately a density problem,” said Bruce Dean, a development attorney with decades of experience in the Frederick real estate industry.

Increasing affordabilityHousing affordability has long been a challenge in the city of Frederick that elected officials have attempted to tackle.

“People want to live and work and play downtown, but it’s a big issue to do that affordably,” said Bruce Zavos, a member of the Frederick Affordable Housing Council and the president of the local firm Zavos Architecture and Design.

Many discussions in the city about housing affordability have centered on so-called “moderately priced dwelling units” and regulatory actions taken to price the market. But those have arguably just shown how difficult it is for governments to regulate the market.

The Downtown Frederick Partnership housing study suggested some creative solutions to the downtown development struggle — pairing residential units with commercial space, for instance, as developers are planning for the former Coca-Cola bottling plant at the far end of North Market Street. But the obstacles have also made Low Income Housing Tax Credits, or LIHTC, which is {span}a dollar-for-dollar tax credit in the United States for affordable housing investments,{/span} projects a more appealing option than they might be in other areas, several developers suggested.

“In those cases, construction costs are at least partially subsidized by the tax credits,” said Mark Lancaster, owner of Lancaster Craftsmen Builders in Middletown. “Take the [520] North Market Street development. Without tax credits, that building would never have been consummated.”

Sinclair Way off South Street was another splashy LIHTC development, and the future of the Goodwill Industries building on East Church Street made headlines after the city approved a site plan for roughly 80 new workforce apartments.

But it would be difficult for tax-credit projects to solely meet the demand for housing downtown, Zavos said. For starters, they generally need backing from a development company that is well-versed in affordable construction and the LIHTC application process. There’s also no guarantee that they’ll receive the necessary tax credits.

“It’s a very competitive process,” he said.

This year, only one of six proposed affordable housing developments in all of Frederick County was awarded the credits. In the city of Frederick, there are only 10 completed LIHTC projects listed by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development from 1995 to 2018. Two more are in development, and three of them are only for seniors. In total, there are 1,305 affordable units funded through the LIHTC program.

With 27 percent of the county’s population, though, the city still needs about 4,779 more units affordable to residents making less than $50,000 a year, based on estimates from an affordable housing market study commissioned by the county in 2016, which could have increased by now.

If some of the city’s land management restrictions were relaxed, developers argue, higher-density buildings could help meet the demand for housing within walking distance of downtown. Not all of it would be strictly defined as workforce housing, but the size of some of the units would push down rents, as would the added availability.

“Right now, I think the market is somewhat artificial — some of these limitations are inflating the property values,” Zavos said. “When you have a strong demand and limited supply, of course prices are going to go up.”

Wormald agreed, saying: “What I would like to do is provide places that are affordable by the mere fact that they’re smaller. We earn less per square foot for a bigger unit than we do for studios.”

Relaxing height and density restrictions, according to many in the industry, would allow developers to offset construction costs by adding more units.

“I will say, if you can lower developer costs, you can lower rents,” echoed Jodie Ostoich, president of the Interfaith Housing Alliance, which constructed the apartments at 520 N. Market St. with help from PIRHL, a development firm in Cleveland.

Considering the futureThe city has its reasons for current zoning requirements.

Height restrictions were a commonly cited impediment by local developers, and they don’t rise above 90 feet — roughly nine stories — anywhere in Frederick, according to the land management code. For developers with smaller parcels, especially downtown, the caps further restrict density in situations where their only option is building up.

“In the zones you’re talking about, though, it’s important to have height restrictions to keep the integrity of the downtown area,” said Brandon Mark, the city’s manager for community planning and urban design.

In Lancaster’s experience, the downtown height restrictions, with a max of 65 to 75 feet in the downtown residential and downtown business districts, are driven largely by a desire to preserve views of the city’s famous — and eponymous — clustered spires.

“Historic preservation is one of the largest economic drivers for our city,” Mark said. “And if you allow higher buildings, you may ruin the fabric of that for the future.”

Developers like Lancaster and Zavos argue that it’s possible to increase density and height allowances in a moderate way — one that wouldn’t detract from the historic character of the city. Zavos specifically mentioned Alexandria, Virginia, where new construction is often side by side with colonial structures.

“It’s evolutionary, but it’s time to start thinking about it,” he said. “We have limited resources downtown, and in my mind, more density is a positive thing.”

Frederick went through a related evolution in the late 1930s and ’40s, in the midst of a nationwide housing shortage during World War II. Newspaper clippings of the time show a slew of building permits for home renovations as downtown property owners converted historic row houses into two- to four-bedroom apartments. In 1938, 43 new apartments were built downtown, according to one article in The Frederick Post. In 1944, there were reports that the Great Frederick Fair may be canceled so officials could use the fairground buildings for affordable housing.

Today, that trend is reversing, said Anthony Owens, the owner of a local remodeling company with a specialty in historic buildings. It’s more common for buyers to purchase divided row houses and reconvert them to single-family dwellings. Almost an entire block of former apartments on East Second Street were similarly remodeled, according to property records. Local real estate sites show several current apartment buildings marketed to families, including one town house on West Fifth Street that’s occupied by three separate tenants. “Unlimited potential to rehab back to a single family home,” the listing reads.

But what happens when a city is accessible only to upper-middle-class homebuyers?

“To me, that is the death knell of a community,” Zavos said. “Now we have no diversity. We have no economic diversity. We have no social diversity. It’s homogenous. And you can see the energy leave the area.”

There are other reasons to encourage high-density development.

Done sustainably, it can slow suburban sprawl by introducing new housing options in areas with existing amenities such as schools, roads, restaurants and sidewalks, Lancaster said. Higher density increases the tax base of a city — a boon for the local economy — and can decrease traffic congestion by promoting walkability. It can also reduce maintenance stress by limiting the number of new roads, and water and sewer lines within a municipality.

“I do think that we as a city and a community need to promote the density downtown,” Lancaster said. “But we also need to promote areas that could be considered downtown but currently aren’t.”

Even with loosened height and density restrictions, he pointed out, the city’s historic preservation guidelines limit construction in the areas generally defined as the downtown core. The Historic Preservation Commission has broad purview to deny projects that could conflict with the city’s existing architecture. From a tourism perspective, the largely unchanged streets of downtown Frederick are constantly yielded as one of the city’s biggest attractions.

Still, change is coming. The upcoming strategic plan currently endorses form-based code, a type of planning that emphasizes aesthetics over splitting an area into separate land uses. Under existing Euclidean codes, Frederick is split into distinct usage areas — downtown residential, for example, or light industrial, all with specific building regulations including height and density maximums. But the change could allow for apartment buildings next to single-family homes, as long as all of the structures met certain design guidelines.

“One of the goals is to completely get rid of single-family zoning districts,” Mark said. “Essentially, as long as a building looks a certain way, multiple things can go in there.”

That doesn’t mean existing neighborhoods will suddenly be replaced with apartments, he added, but it could promote higher density in still-developing areas of the city. The East Street corridor, past the MARC train station, is often cited as a natural extension of downtown Frederick.

“I do think the city should protect the historic district as it is, but also define some areas where they will allow substantial density and height,” Lancaster said. “The city needs to start thinking about what it’s going to look like in 30 years. And if it’s going to retain its position as the second-largest city in Maryland, it’s going to have to start accommodating these taller buildings.”

Kate Masters is the features and food reporter for The Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at kmasters@newspost.com.

(57) comments


Politicians ... at any local level .. will always support over-development. Why? More revenue from taxes, home sales, building permits, etc. They aren't concerned with infrastructure, public safety, traffic congestion, parking, over-crowding and the like. They support developers and big companies that donate to their campaigns. They support big money. Let's examine what's REALISTICALLY happened to Frederick and lower Frederick County: Over-development, over-crowding, traffic congestion and higher crime because your local politicians have allowed it. None of it came FROM Frederick or the county ... it came from those OUTSIDE of the county that moved in. Period.


Too many bang bangers downtown. Not safe. Can’t live their.


Lancaster said. “The city needs to start thinking about what it’s going to look like in 30 years. And if it’s going to retain its position as the second-largest city in Maryland, it’s going to have to start accommodating these taller buildings.”

Note to Mr. Lancaster, Mayor Mike and the BOA, most residents do give a hoot about our position as the second largest city in MD! If that is your motivation to build higher, you will pay a political price.

Comment deleted.



Peter, all across the nation, local government is promoting over-development. Unfortunately, it is what they do. Prices on everything go up to meet "what the traffic will bear." It's happening down south, where people from up north are deciding to retire there. Then, they find out too late that most things are as expensive as here. Everybody gets the same idea (better weather in the winter, more space, etc.). In terms of locally, how much more traffic can Market Street bear? It's ridiculous now. And, you promote development where some builder(s) is going to create more ticky-tacky ("affordable" or not) where resulting residents will hear everything from their neighbors? And, who says that additional people in an area bring new and exciting new knowledge? Not to mention --- wealth. Not necessarily. Just one example is the rental housing in Frederick. Several of those properties have gone downhill in the past few years. (It's an interest of mine that I keep up with along with crime reports).


Sue: yes, I'd get rid of all offices of economic development at the different levels of government and the subsidies and tax credits they give to developers. At the same time, in my opinion, we should be reducing obstacles to developers meeting obvious needs -- obstacles like old limits on units/ acre etc especially in downtowns where people already accept living closer together and with businesses and residential uses mixed up.


Agreed petersamuel. As the national population increases, through birth or immigration, people will need a place to live. Our options are build up (increasing urban population density) or out (bulldozing farmland and forest). I don't know of a third option, except "go somewhere else", but to someone else, we are "somewhere else ". Keeping overall density the same just drives the cost of housing up due to lack of availability. This makes it even harder for moderate income folks to live here.


Density limits are in place for a reason. More people equals more burden on city services, roads, water usage, etc. Developers should have done their regulatory research on density and planned accordingly.


Belknapj: as you say more people do equal more burden on city services but they also equal more people to pay for those services. The extra people will be paying water & sewer fees, more property tax for general city services, so there is no reason at all to think they will be a net burden. On the contrary to the extent some of the City's costs are fixed or overhead costs borne regardless of the population those costs will now be spread over a large number of fee and tax-paying people. Density limits prevent us as a community taking advantage of spreading those fixed costs over more people, and reducing per household costs.


Peter, that is always the argument by politicians/local officials for promoting development. Hence, it raises the tax base. However, more people "in the pool" do not necessarily translate to lower costs for the additional people. Look at the greater Washington, D.C. area. The residents closer to the District are paying premium prices for electricity and water. I know people in Montgomery County and one guy in Bowie (P.G. County). Their rates are through the roof from those companies (names withheld due to possibly moderated out) because their rates are higher. Also, due to the area, the practice (as regulated by the PSC) charges "whatever the traffic will bear." And, btw, all those low-flow devices (and other sneaky measuring devices) did nothing for saving customers' bills. The utility companies contended that they did not receive enough revenue, so they raised the rates.


Sue, local government should not promote development, I agree. Its job is to respond with local government services (water, sewer, stormwater, policing, roads etc) to the development that people make by way of their voluntary choices as to where to live, create jobs, buy houses etc. Neither should local governmernt oppose and block development that the people generate. Government should be neutral about development. At present with housing costs rising more than incomes in downtown Frederick it is clear government zoning and its artificial limits on density are preventing suppliers of housing responding to demand. So this FNP report is commendable for throwing some light on that issue. You are right that local government -- as in MontgoCo and PG is generally inefficient -- and liable to overtax and overcharge. But that problem is not going to be helped by resisting growth or speaking as if extra people are a burden by neglecting to consider that extra people also provide extra resources of skill, inventiveness, energy, productivity, income, wealth etc. They are producers as well as consumers. That's a reality, even if it is a proposition misused by some for bad public policy (subsidizing development.)


DickD: If a developer could build low cost, small apartments at $55k or $77k each as you are claiming, then why isn't he busting down the doors of City Hall to do that. He'd be able to sell them for close to $200k each or rent for $10k/year. I think the costs would be at least double your $77k. Each apartment has to have certain basics like a bathroom and a kitchen and a washing machine, so many costs increase with the number of apartments, as opposed to square feet. Plamondon has costed his eternally-proposed 200-room downtown hotel at $80m which works out at $400k/room. A lot of that of course is luxury froth and nonsense. But basic small apartments the size of Plamondon's hotel rooms are probably 40% of $400k or $160k, or even 50% and $200k.


Peter, read the article, it says Studio apartments. Do you know what a studio apartment is?


If you read the article, Peter, it said; "............ Wormald said, he’d provide a mix of studio and one-bedroom units — smaller spaces that would naturally command lower rents, even with adhering to the city’s height limits.  But because of the city’s density restrictions, the company is limited to 127 unit."  So, they wanted more, but are limited to 127, let's say they do the maximum allowed, 127.  They also said; " When the Downtown Frederick Partnership ran a cost estimate for a much smaller new infill development — 24 new apartments at 3,200 square feet — the total project cost was more than $7 million."  So, we know that they will cut the 24 into 127 parts.  Therefore the math is right.  But look at it another way.  They could say that the 127 will average 604 sq. feet.  That is not a luxury apartment.  Even if they build according to the current limitation of 75 units per acre they should not hit $292,000.  As they haven't provided acreage we can only guess,my guess is 75, which would give you almost double the $77,000 cost per unit.


Dick D; If he says that under the present limit of 75 units/acre he can build 127 then he must have 127/75 acres or 1.7 acres of land. That limit drives any developer to build high priced units. Most of us are agreed that we should be catering to people who would prefer smaller, more basic units down to studios of 500sf or so because they are going to be more affordable. The way to do that is to spread the land cost, utility and other fixed costs over more units -- which points to raising the maximum allowable units/acre as the solution.


You are just speculating, Peter. No where does it say the area that they have to build. What it says is;  "The city’s height restrictions — a maximum of 75 feet, or roughly six stories, in the downtown business district — hurt a little. The city’s density restrictions, at 75 units per acre, hurt a lot."It is the city's restrictions that they are referring to; not the amount of land they own.  


The $7m actually $7.17m project cost, 24 apartment project I'm pretty sure comes from this Downtown Partnership sponsored study https://downtownfrederick.org/wp-content/uploads/live-downtown-frederick_case-study-project.pdf page 20

The Grape of Wrath

The reporter let herself become just a mouthpiece for lies of the developers like the one pictured. Disgusting.


I didn't see any obvious lies. Please spell out what you considered to be "lies".


You're absolutely right that it would be absurd to say a condo would go for $77k. But I don't see that dollar figure anywhere in the FNP report. Where did you get that number from?


Calculations - 7 million divided by 127 = $55,000. $55,000 X 40% profit = $22,000. $22,000 + 55,000 = $77,000.


You might want to re-read the article. The $7 million figure wasn't for 127 units: "When the Downtown Frederick Partnership ran a cost estimate for a much smaller new infill development — 24 new apartments at 3,200 square feet — the total project cost was more than $7 million."


Dick/FCPSprincipal: you misread the FNP report. The $7 million project cost was for a hypothetical 24 apartment project not Wormald's 127 apartments. $7m/24 = $292,000 cost each.


True the 7 million was for 24 units, but they would divide that up into 127 under the current status. So, maybe the cost would go up slightly, but saying that the original 24 units would cost almost $300, 000 should tell you that if you made 127 units out of the same space that the costs will be significantly less. I will stick with $77,000.

The Grape of Wrath

Obviously ghost written for developers who too darned chicken to show their real agenda. Those jackals don't give a hoot about what they do, who they pay off, what garbage they build, how difficult the the result is. They just want high profit, government coddling and most of all government handouts. Is anybody sick and tired of the endless chain of businesses demanding handouts, tax credits, tax waivers, subsidies, special gifts, etc, all the time? Send these jackals packing. If they want money that's what banks are for.


You're right that people are sick of businesses wanting handouts, tax credits etc. But be fair. The two businessmen Wormald and Lancaster were not asking for that. They were pointing out that city restrictions on density prevent anyone from building affordable housing. We have city officials who try to have it both ways. They claim to want affordable housing, but then they make it uneconomic to build it with their zoning and code requirements. That is the guts of what this report is saying.


OMG, a housing crisis...the realtors, developers and builders are trying to sell the citizens and those in power a phony bill of goods....tsk tsk, only 75 housing units per acre, what shall we do...that equates to approx. 180 people living on that one acre with 180 additional vehicles on our parking lot roads and some unknown number of school kids in our trailer park schools....and who pays for all this "Rockville-like" excess...why the taxpayers of course while the above troika pockets the cash...what a disgrace


Exactly.. Let’s take 200 people and stuff them in a small box and watch from above as they create havoc trying to move around with that box..


This is developer whining and a very unbalanced article. How did all the rest of downtown get built and sold successfully? FNP please be more balanced in your reporting!




Did it occur to anyone that Blaine might have gone to the developers and said give me campaign money and I will promise you to change the building rules so you can make more money. Just go to the FNP and publicly make your case now. Once elected I will make sure that you get it.


Is there any space in Monrovia for this developer to put high density housing?


Not if Steve can help it. Mg.


One subject note noted is the over 150 properties being used with regulations by investors as Tourist Home in the City of Frederick. This must have some impact on available housing the anyone. Just look at the stats on AirDNA. Any thoughts?

Comment deleted.

The Blaine gang reincarnated. [thumbup]


At 7 million dollars and 127 units the cost would be a little over $55,000 per unit. Someone making $50,000 per year should be able to afford that. Probably, the mortgage would be less than $300 per month.

Now there may be more people than the market will bear, to live in downtown Frederick, but that market has limitations. If you compare the cost of building elsewhere, it might be more feasible. There's also the question of why someone with limited income should be allowed to live anywhere they want. Especially, if it has to be tax subsidized.


Apply a bit of common sense to these numbers. If it costs $55K to build, they aren't going to sell it for that. They would be selling for at least $200K, and probably closer to $300K.


No doubt it would be more than $55,000, but usually the profit margin is 25 to 40%. So, a range of $70,000 to $77,000. Possibly a little more.

The Grape of Wrath

You must have been smoking pounds of medical marijuana to believe a "luxury" condo downtown will go for $77k. Pounds I tell you, not grams or ounces. Pounds.


Luxury condo? They said affordable, not luxury.


If you go back and reread you will find that they have to be affordable for someone making less than $50,000. In another section, Wormald talks about Studio apartments. .That's is ridiculous if you think that the price of a Studio apartment would be worth $200,000 to $300 000. Not to mention whether someone making $50,000 could afford them.


Excellent reporting, quotes sensible thoughtful businessmen and raises important issues for discussion .... and hopefully action.


I thought it was a well written article of the depth that we don’t often get in the FNP.

I did almost laugh when the builder complained that the 1% linear park fee was such an imposition.

Please - that 1% not making or breaking anything.

It is also a comment that is not very community oriented - the linear park is the jewel of Frederick.


Yeah, at $55,000 per unit it would be a whopping $550.


It may not be much but instead of imposing a 1% burden for luxury items and then given developers tax incentives later, why not just eliminate the 1% public arts and linear park requirement or make it an infrastructure requirement. Most art should be left up to individuals to decide what they want to purchase or not. Let some philanthropist buy some art and donate it to the city. With underfunded infrastructure again, requiring a set aside for public art is just not logical.


I have never met a builder who felt the current regulatory market was acceptable. I *did* have a hard time with the text, because there developer wants to build "luxury" condos, but the story takes a long detour into "affordable housing" which is clearly not the same thing. The development community is fine with government regulation as long as the government is handing out checks and tax breaks, but as soon as someone tells them "no", they are crying about the oppressive regulatory environment. And let's not forget what the article does NOT say about what the city will spend on infrastructure if they let him build his building (lots), and how much he is willing to contribute (not so much).


More cars, more people, no grocery store. Yippee


The density is fine. Live elsewhere in the county.

Everybody doesn’t get everything they want. Including the builders.


Downtown Frederick is affordable if you make enough money. If not move out to route 40 and take a bus into the city. I love the builders spin. Please they want more units for more profits PERIOD.




"...move out to route 40 and take a bus into the city..." Which "city" would that be? I ask because Route 40 (West Patrick Street) is within the Frederick City limits.


You know what I am talking about. Downtown proper. Nobody really cares if you grow west of 15. People want affordable housing from Patrick to 3rd. Sorry does not work that way..


Lorraine, you are my density..




I live in a Wormald home at Mill Island. Have been here for more than nine years. Love it here. I think other Wormald projects have done well along the Monocacy and East Church is a model of homes. Given the right parameters, they can build an addition downtown that will enhance the area. With the Frederik County emphasis on affordable housing, there may be ways to make good homes that many can afford.


It's not density restrictions it's greediness.



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