Group plans to revitalize Hagerstown neighborhood

September 21, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - Business and City of Hagerstown officials on Monday announced a project in which a newly formed nonprofit organization would buy land on an aging portion of East Baltimore Street for the purpose of building 20 to 30 new homes.

The plan was good news for one couple who lives on that street and owns a business there.

Betty Hann, 71, who lives with her husband, Gerald Hann, 77, midway between South Potomac and Locust streets, said they have no neighbors because of all the businesses there. Their house faces the proposed construction site.

"My neighborhood wasn't always that way," Gerald Hann said. With more neighbors and a stronger community, he said "I think (the project) is going to enhance the neighborhood."


Enhancing the neighborhood is just what those putting the plan together said they hoped to do.

The land that would be redeveloped is nearly three acres and is owned by Rock N' Spring Corp. of Williamsport. Currently housed there is Massey Auto Body. The body shop will move within the next year to a new location, owner Jerry Massey said.

Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership Inc., which is seeking official nonprofit status as a community development corporation, would buy the land from Rock N' Spring Corp., said Richard Phoebus Sr., president of the partnership.

The City of Hagerstown allocated $300,000 in federal grants from this year's budget to support the new development corporation. Phoebus said much of that money would be used in the East Baltimore Street project.

This would be Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership's first project, but more are expected, he said.

Phoebus said that organization plans to use loans to complete the purchase in January. Using federal grant money, the corporation would tear down most of the existing buildings on the site, including the auto body business and a vacant building that held a flower shop.

A historic house on the property would be saved and refurbished, Phoebus said.

Phoebus said that once the land is cleared, his organization would work with a developer who would agree to build the new homes. He said he expected construction to begin in late summer or early fall of next year.

It is not clear if the land would remain under the ownership of Phoebus' group, or if it would be sold to a developer, Phoebus said. He said a developer agreement will address the type of architecture, the amount of open space and parking and number of homes, but those details won't be worked out until next year.

"This will be, when completed, a multimillion-dollar project," Phoebus said.

Phoebus said the purpose of the project is to build homes that people with moderate to high incomes would buy. He said doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals no longer live downtown, and "we want to bring some of that back in."

Those residents are the type that officials hope will spur more downtown commercial development by visiting the city's theaters, restaurants and shops, Phoebus said. The site also is near the Washington County Free Library. He said he hoped it could boost residential development, too.

Orlando Alvarado is a Germantown, Md., developer who recently bought the building at 35-37 E. Baltimore St., which has space for offices and apartments.

Alvarado had workers repainting the facade of the building Monday afternoon. He said the street's property values are increasing, and a drug problem in the neighborhood appears to have been removed. He said other owners on the block also are fixing up their properties.

Having 30 new homes built across the street from his building would be an unexpected windfall for his own business, but also for others nearby, Alvarado said.

"That type of citizen is going to bring in the commercial (business) ... That's great news," Alvarado said.

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