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Tech park needs housing, retail to draw firms

November 28, 2004|By Joseph G. Svatos

We are writing today in reference to your Nov. 11 editorial concerning our attempt to amend the ORT zoning district text of the Washington County Zoning Ordinance.

This amendment would affect property that we currently have under contract to purchase that is known as the Friendship Technology Park located off of Exit 28 at Interstate 70 and Downsville Pike.

We believe there is tremendous potential to develop a mixed-use development community at this location that would include a significant office component, as well as residential and retail uses. Based on our experience in creating innovative professional workplaces throughout the region, we feel strongly that a mixed-use approach with a significant office component will demonstrate to the types of corporate users you hope to attract that Washington County is ready for business.

The goal of the ORT and PUD ordinance amendments we propose is to facilitate mixed-use development in Washington County within the Urban Growth Area. In the ORT zoned area, we have an opportunity to create a village center of commercial office, hotel and conference center, a neighborhood serving retail, residential and civic uses that will assist the county's goals of economic development.

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By creating a "center of community," which captures the strengths and assets of Washington County and Hagerstown, we can achieve the county's business development objectives during our five- to 10-year development period.

It is our goal to bring high paying, skilled jobs to Washington County. We have a 30-year track record of accomplishing this goal in nearly every jurisdiction in the Washington metropolitan area. Maintaining the current single- purpose zoning will not provide the opportunity to do something meaningful with this site anytime soon.

Many single-purpose office parks located in Montgomery and Fairfax counties are now being repositioned in the marketplace to maintain their competitiveness and market appeal to technology and corporate users.

The office component of Friendship Village will contain a minimum of 750,000 square feet of office/research and development space carefully integrated in and around the village center built over 15-20 years. This amount of space will bring approximately 2,000 jobs to the county. As such, our goals and the goals of the community are aligned.

We strongly believe that repositioning this site as a mixed-use community will accelerate the economic growth process and the resulting positive fiscal impact to the county by attracting more skilled and higher-paying jobs within three to five years.

We know this site well and have worked with Allegheny for two years marketing this property while we were negotiating a joint venture agreement.

We know firsthand the challenges with trying to attract high-paying technology users from closer in locations of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to this site without being able to offer more to them than just inexpensive land.

We believe major high-tech employers such as Thales, Medimmune, Humane Genome Sciences, Celera, Bechtel Corporation, Gene Logic, Computer Sciences Corporation, ATT, CACI, SAIC, Hughes, Department of Homeland Security, which and Digene that are currently operating in the Washington metropolitan area, would consider the county as a possible location for consolidation, operations centers, administrative support and manufacturing facilities.

Many are in fact, current clients of Akridge. Based on this experience, we realize that major corporation will select Washington County/Hagerstown for a large-scale relocation if there exists a community place or destination which can be a well-planned and mixed-use area like Friendship Village.

The Villages of Urbana, a mixed-use development in Frederick County, is a good example of the magnetic pull a "place" has on a major office user. This 1,100-acre project includes a town center, residential units and an affordable corporate campus with Interstate 270 visibility.

The developer began marketing this well-planned project in the early '90s without the housing, retail amenity or town center components. Bear in mind that this very strategic site in the dynamic I-270 corridor (approximately 1.2 million square feet of annual net absorption) did not attract a major corporate user until significant housing and amenities were in place and the Villages of Urbana became known as a "place."

Upon the addition of those features, in 2003, Fannie Mae selected the Villages of Urbana to construct an operations center (ultimately 500,000 square feet).

At the public hearing on Nov. 8, Stephen Goodrich, senior planner for the county, explained that there is a misunderstanding in the community about the proposed amendment. The proposed amendment, if adopted, does not permit a developer to do anything except submit a PUD application. At that time, the county and the community would have ample opportunity to fully shape the specific mix of uses in a careful public-hearing process.

The planning commission would make recommendations to the Washington County Commissioners and the application may be revised, denied or approved at that time. We believe that this $300 million project and the John Akridge Development Company will provide Washington County a tremendous opportunity to attract professional jobs. We understand the needs of the corporate users that Washington County wants to attract and these amendments will give us the opportunity to work with all of its citizens to achieve these important objectives.




Joseph G. Svatos is senior vice president of the John Akridge Development Company.

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