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Group buys Mount Aetna Farms land for technology park

June 15, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — A longtime local economic development organization completed its purchase Wednesday of 173-acres of Mount Aetna Farms near Hagerstown Community College, according to an organization official.

CHIEF, also know as the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, bought the property from Diakon Senior Living for just under $3.5 million, CHIEF President Richard Phoebus said.

The organization plans to promote the property to biotechnology and other high-tech companies as a technology park strategically located between the community college and Meritus Medical Center, Phoebus said.

“We think it’s extremely important to the future,” Phoebus said of the technology park project.

As HCC expands its offerings in up-and-coming fields like biotechnology, CHIEF wants to attract companies that complement those programs and ensure students trained in those fields can find jobs in this county, he said.

The land CHIEF purchased was part of the roughly 223 acres of farmland where a housing development was once proposed, but never came to fruition.

An investment company bought the property for $9 million in a 2007 foreclosure sale, and Diakon bought it for $3.1 million in late 2008, according to Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records.

Diakon kept about 50 acres of the property for a potential expansion of its neighboring Robinwood senior living community and sold the remaining 173 acres to CHIEF, Phoebus said.

CHIEF is a local organization founded in 1960 by an act of what is now the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission and the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Phoebus said.

“We work very, very closely with EDC,” Phoebus said. “We try and make sure that there is the appropriate kind of development property available in the county so that EDC can bring their plans and concepts into fruition.”

CHIEF is a nonprofit organization in the 501(c)(6), or “business league” category, and is run by a 15-member board whose members have an understanding of economic development, real estate and job creation, he said.

Due to CHIEF’s nonprofit status, by law no one can benefit from ownership, he said.

Phoebus is CHIEF’s current president, but plans to retire by the end of September and pass the reins to President-elect Gregory I. Snook, he said.

CHIEF will work with the EDC to market the Mount Aetna Farms property to technology companies and would probably subdivide lots and parcels to sell to those companies, which would then build on the site, Phoebus said.

The first step will be for the county to complete a planned extension of Yale Drive from Medical Campus Road to HCC’s Scholar Drive, which will introduce road access to the Mount Aetna Farms property, he said.

That $9.3 million county project could begin construction in summer of 2012, officials have said.

A concept plan for roads in the area also calls for an extension of Professional Court over Antietam Creek, connecting to the Eastern Boulevard corridor.

Phoebus estimated it would be at least seven years — and possibly as long as 20 years — before the park is completely built out.

“This is not going to happen overnight,” he said. “I wouldn’t look for 10 new companies to move in there tomorrow.”

CHIEF began its first industrial park in the early 1970s and only sold the last lot two or three years ago, Phoebus said.

The organization has created four industrial parks, but Phoebus said he expects this project to be “a little bit more sophisticated.”

“We have no significant history in this county of biotech-like sciences,” he said. “We have some, but not much, so we will have to find those firms, attract those firms and bring them here.”

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