Details emerged in a town-hall-style meeting Wednesday for transforming a county-owned building into mixed-income workforce housing in downtown Frederick.
The Interfaith Housing Alliance hopes to partner with developer PIRHL to buy the property of the former schoolhouse owned by the county at 520 N. Market St. They plan to create 55 to 60 workforce housing units. The property would have amenities such as covered parking, a rooftop terrace and a community room.
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner held the meeting to talk about the proposal and get input from the community. She said IHA would preserve the building’s history and turn it into something that would make the area more vibrant.
Shortly after Gardner was sworn in as county executive, she appointed four leadership teams in key areas.
“All four leadership teams identified a need for working residents to be able to find housing in our community that was affordable,” she said, “so that more people could work and live in Frederick County.”
Residents got the chance Wednesday to look at renderings of the proposed project and ask questions. People from Interfaith Housing Alliance, PIRHL, and Zavos Architecture and Design attended the meeting to talk about their part in the proposed project and answer questions from the audience.
“I think the most exciting thing about this project is that it will preserve the former school,” Gardner said, “and it will add population, people and activity to this area of North Market Street.”
Gardner said the project would appeal to young professionals, young families, seniors and others who want to live downtown.
But this is only the beginning of a long process. This is just a concept plan, she said, which would change to incorporate community input.
Mark Lancaster, treasurer of IHA and a member of its board of directors, said the project is a great partnership and concept.
“We’ll be able to address multiple people and be able to get housing for them in a location that makes sense,” he said.
Bruce Zavos, president of Zavos Architecture and Design, the architects planned for the project, said the firm specializes in affordable housing and does a lot of historic work.
“From our perspective, this was a wonderful opportunity to combine those two experiences: one with the historic building, one with the workforce housing component,” he said.
The addition will touch the historic building in only two places to maintain the integrity of that structure.
Zavos said they would create a courtyard around the building — envisioned as a nice outdoor space. The current office building would be repurposed into housing.
“It’s a wonderful project. It should stimulate a lot of growth on North Market, and have a wonderful impact on the community around it,” he said.
CJ Tyree, vice president of development at PIRHL, talked about the organization’s past work in developing multi-family housing, particularly workforce housing. This is the fifth project PIRHL is working on with Interfaith Housing Alliance, he said.
“When we’re done with the project, Interfaith drives everything from there,” he said. “They will be the manager. They will make the decisions about how the property operates.”
He said the project would include one-, two- and three-bedroom units and would be restricted mostly to specific income ranges, likely between about $20,000 and $60,000 a year. Some units will be unrestricted, he said.
“We’re very excited about how this project has come together,” he said. “We’re all trying to get out and introduce the project early in the process to gain as much feedback as we can to make the project as good as it can be.”
The proposal was met with frustration by some residents who lived around the area. Some opposed it strongly, saying it would reduce property values and not be an effective solution.
Still, organizers emphasized they would be in touch with residents in the neighborhood during the process — and that it would actually help the area.
Gardner suggested having a follow-up meeting to show people more detailed renderings and give more information about the projects — and start to address the concerns.
“Clearly, the community’s interested in it, so I think sharing more information would be a good thing,” she said.