Efforts to transform a once-blighted downtown site into an apartment complex have resumed after moving several significant steps backwards in the process.
Ron Johnston, project architect, appeared before the city Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday requesting the same demolition of the facades at 58-70 S. Market St. the commission approved in 2012. That approval, along with those for the rehabilitation of the roofless building next door at 56 S. Market St. and first-level site plans, have since expired.
This time, the commission voted to approve demolition of only one set of the brick facades, from 66-70 S. Market St.
The second facade, at 58-60 S. Market St., was deemed a contributing resource to the Frederick Town Historic District in a narrow 4-3 vote. Although the commission may still approve demolition of contributing resources, the historic district guidelines dictate that such a decision must be made at a separate public hearing.
The next steps remain uncertain as city planing staff and commission members work with the project team to determine if and how the facade can be incorporated into the new building plans. But the fact that progress has resumed at all is positive, said Mayor Randy McClement in an interview before the meeting.
“We do have applications that lapse,” he said. “We’re glad they’re still interested enough to move forward and get something in there.”
Efforts to rehabilitate the long-abandoned site had several false starts. The city granted demolition of the dilapidated buildings at 58-70 S. Market St., apart from the front facades, in 2000. Replacement plans didn’t materialize as expected.
The property sold for $153,000 at a tax sale in 2011 to its current owner, a business entity known as Suitland Road LLC, according to online property tax records. A year later, Montgomery County resident Tarek Aly, listed as the corporation’s principal, applied for and received HPC approval to tear down the 58-70 S. Market St. facades and rehabilitate the 56. S. Market St. building.
Aly submitted plans for the three-story, two-building apartment complex to the city Planning Commission this past spring.
Suddenly, things halted. The Planning Commission hearing was postponed after Aly failed to submit the necessary subdivision plat. Then, the HPC approvals expired. And the future of the long-abandoned property was uncertain yet again.
After a hiatus that lasted several months, progress has resumed.
The commission will vote on demolition of the second facade at a hearing next month. It will also review a second application for partial demolition and rehabilitation of the 56 S. Market St. building at a January meeting. That application was also approved in 2012 and has since expired.
In comments after the hearing, Johnston credited the lack of action after the prior approvals to misunderstanding of when the approvals expired. He also said there were other factors involved, but did not want to elaborate.
Aly did not attend the hearing and did not return phone messages asking for comment Thursday.
Several additional approvals from the HPC and the Planning Commission are needed before Aly can move forward with demolition or new construction. Based on the site plans submitted to the city earlier this year, the project would replace the facades with a three-story, 15-apartment building of studio, one- and two-bedroom units.
The building at 56 S. Market St. would be elevated to three stories as well — the street-facing portion already stands three stories tall, but the rear is only two. That would then be renovated to make way for six apartments. Each building would also allow office or commercial use on the ground floors.
Aly told The Frederick News-Post previously that construction would take about two years once all approvals and permits are in place.
The property was identified as one of 30 on its blighted property list and property watch list created in 2014. As of the Oct. 1 quarterly update, it is still listed as a property to watch, although there are no open code violations according to the city’s online database.