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County Commissioners OK condo project

April 02, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS and DON AINES

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- A project to turn the upper floors of the old Hamilton Hotel on West Washington Street into condominiums can proceed despite the effect it might have on overcrowded schools, the Washington County Commissioners decided Tuesday.

The commissioners voted 3-2 to waive the school adequacy requirements in the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) for the project, as allowed under a "revitalization clause" in the ordinance.

The building's owner, Ares Investment Group LLC, plans to convert vacant commercial space on the third, fourth and part of the fifth floors of the building into 24 condominiums for sale to young professionals, according to a memo from Hagerstown Planning Director Kathleen A. Maher.

Because the project would feed into South Hagerstown High School, which is over capacity, and E. Russell Hicks Middle School, which is projected to be over capacity next school year, the Hagerstown Planning Commission cannot approve a building permit without an APFO waiver or mitigation plan approved by the Mayor and City Council and the commissioners, Maher said.

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The APFO's revitalization clause allows officials to waive school adequacy restrictions for revitalization projects, renovation of abandoned or under-utilized structures, and affordable work-force housing.

The old Hamilton Hotel is in Hagerstown's designated revitalization area and the condominium project is considered a good revitalization project for downtown because it would create market-rate housing, as recommended by the 2008 comprehensive plan, Maher said.

In addition, she noted that the impact on schools is likely to be minimal because only seven of the proposed units would have two or more bedrooms, the minimum likely to attract residents with school-aged children.

Commissioners Kristin B. Aleshire and James F. Kercheval said the waiver was easy to support because the adaptive-reuse project was exactly the type the revitalization clause was meant to promote.

Commissioners Terry Baker and William J. Wivell voted against the waiver. Both said they applauded the project, but were reluctant, in general, to grant waivers.

"My fear is if I support this, I have to support waivers all over Washington County when they come in and they want to use this as a precedent for waiving the (mitigation) fees," Baker said.

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