East Frederick is one of few remaining strongholds for industrial businesses in the city and county.
As the city of Frederick moves forward with plans to redevelop a subsection of East Frederick along East Street, the owners and employees of those businesses are speaking out against any changes that would force them to relocate. A small, but vocal contingent of industrial business owners and representatives voiced their concerns with the city’s East Street Corridor Small Area Plan at a community meeting on Wednesday night.
Among them was Dave Staz, general manager for the Dairy Maid Dairy, which has been operating in an East Seventh Street building for more than 50 years, according to the company’s website.
“We want to make sure we don’t get rezoned,” Staz said, explaining his presence at the meeting.
The plan would affect a 371-acre swath of land in the eastern part of the city, bounded by East Street and stretching east toward Schley Farm.
About 125 acres of it, or 34 percent, is currently zoned for light or heavy industrial use, according to Matt Davis, the city’s division manager of comprehensive plans. Under the proposed small area plan, though, much of that land could be rezoned to accommodate other uses, including residential and commercial use.
Ken Breen, a commercial real estate agent and associate broker with Clagett Enterprises, also urged city planners against rezoning for the areas where industrial use has continued.
“Don’t displace the industrial uses that have been on this side of the city for hundreds of years,” Breen said. “Just leave us alone. Don’t push us out.”
Connecting past to future
Davis said he recognized the importance of the city’s industrial sector as a link to the city’s history and longstanding ties to the community. These businesses will remain in place for the foreseeable future, Davis said.
But for the now-vacant parcels of land that cover much of East Frederick, redevelopment is needed. Rezoning is one way to spur that, he said.
Data from a 2014 study of the city market conditions conducted by Sage Policy Group Inc, also project slower growth in industrial business compared with that in other sectors. The report projected the city’s industrial business sector would add 267 employees between 2015 and 2030, 110 of which would be concentrated in the East Frederick area.
But industrial businesses composed only 16 percent of the city’s businesses as of 2013, according to the report. East Frederick boasts a larger percentage of industrial businesses, roughly 33 percent, the report stated.
And manufacturing, warehousing and other industrial-type jobs were among the most rapidly declining employment sectors in East Frederick from 2002 to 2011, according to 2013 U.S. Census Bureau data included in the report. In contrast, health care, professional services and retail trade were the three fastest-growing sectors in that same time frame, the report showed.
The relatively high vacancy rates among the county’s industrial and warehouse space, 16 percent by the end of 2013, compared with 9.9 percent and 9.2 percent in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties respectively, also supports how rezoning existing industrial zones could spur economic development.
And the benefits the small area plan is intend to create — increased residential and commercial activity; easier access by car, foot or bike through East Frederick; curbside appeal through façade improvements and sidewalk and curb beautification — will apply to the existing industrial businesses, too, he said.
“Finding a way for industry to coexist with a ‘newer’ East Street must be a focus of any plan,” Davis said.
Ideas were many and diverse at the Wednesday meeting, as were the roughly three dozen people who proposed them, representing residential and commercial property owners, developers, attorneys, city employees and elected officials.
Among the recurring suggestions were those for “more rooftops.” Residents and business owners both noted the need for more places to live in East Frederick to fuel the existing and new businesses planned.
“We need to support the existing businesses here before we look at areas that are undeveloped,” said Thomas Clagett, chief operating officer for Clagett Enterprises.
He named high-density residential buildings as the way to achieve that.
Julia Ferguson, a local resident, also advocated for more condominiums and apartment-style buildings, the types of homes suitable for the “20-somethings” who may not find or be able to afford similar options in the heart of downtown, she said.
Improved connectivity along the East Street corridor was also named frequently in community feedback. Walking and biking trails and a more connective street grid for drivers would help drive activity to and from downtown.
Also suggested was work to beautify the sidewalks, curbs and building façades along these paths and streets. Bert Anderson, who owns several East Street corridor properties, called for streetscape improvements stretching north from downtown to Ninth Street.
“I think that would male a lot of difference,” he said. “With just a few additional incentives, like sidewalks and landscaping and lighting, you can make that area a lot more attractive.”
Putting the pieces together
The small area plan for the East Street corridor will be the first formal action toward development of the eastern section of the city, as recommended by the Urban Land Institute in 2014. East Frederick Rising, a nonprofit group that supports new development in the eastern part of the city, paid the Washington-based organization $15,000 to study and submit a report on best use of the land east of East Street along Carroll Creek.
The current timeline calls for a draft plan to be completed by May. The document will then be presented to the Planning Commission and the mayor and Board of Aldermen for review and additional input from the public, with final approval slated for late summer, Davis said.
The plan will incorporate research and feedback across many organizations and going back years, including the city’s 2010 comprehensive plan, outside research and studies and the vision plan developed by East Frederick Rising.
Community feedback, including comments shared on Wednesday and those collected through a survey the city published last year, will be weighed heavily, Davis said.
“The idea is to give you all a voice in shaping the East Street corridor for the future,” he said. “What are your thoughts, your concerns? We want to hear about it.”