- Vote sends residential development on Frederick cemetery property into planning stage
- November 17, 2017
Plans for a residential development on an unused portion of Mount Olivet Cemetery can move forward after a rezoning request was approved Thursday.
Members of the Frederick Board of Aldermen voted in a 4-1 majority on a request to remove an institutional floating zone from a 12.74-acre portion of land at the edge of the cemetery at 515 S. Market St. The rezoning is the first step toward the proposed construction of roughly 90 town houses and a senior living center on about 20 vacant acres at the edge of the cemetery.
Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak opposed the request because she disagreed with the developer’s decision not to subdivide the property before rezoning it.
Cemetery owners plan to sell the land because they do not need it for future burials. A developer, Community Housing Initiative, has an option to buy and develop it.
Several neighbors in Neighborhood Advisory Council 10, the NAC that surrounds the property, have opposed the project, citing concerns about increased traffic and density if the land is developed as proposed. Four of those neighbors spoke at Thursday’s hearing.
“I do understand you’re talking about removing the institutional zoning, but we want to make sure you understand that this is a big issue in the neighborhood,” said Emily Roy, a Catoctin Avenue resident who has consistently voiced opposition to the tentative project plans.
Roy and her neighbors encouraged the aldermen to ensure proper precautions are taken to address traffic concerns and perform proper Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance tests before development plans are approved. The ordinance is a legislative method that ties public infrastructure to growth for proposed development. It tests the development’s projected impact on roads, water, sewer, schools and traffic.
Thomas Overbey, who lives 3½ blocks away from the proposed development area, said traffic is a “major concern” in the area and put emphasis on the importance of a traffic study. Carrollton Drive resident Jennifer Tegges said she worries about the potential strain the addition of more residents could have on emergency, medical and law enforcement response.
“I urge caution moving forward,” she said.
Roy said she and her neighbors, many of whom she said were unable to attend Thursday’s meeting because of work and family obligations, have formed a group — the Jefferson Community Association — to collect concerns about the potential development and other issues. She encouraged the aldermen to check out the association’s website to learn more about how the residents feel.
Alderman Josh Bokee commended the residents for their initiative in starting the association. While he said he supports the project, he said he also understands the concerns and hopes city officials can address them.
“Those issues of speeding, et cetera, should be more thoroughly addressed and looked at regardless of whether this project moves forward,” he said.
Alderman Michael O’Connor said he agreed with Bokee’s comments and also supports the project but plans to monitor the plans closely as they move forward.
Alderwoman Kelly Russell said she also supports the project and that she understands the “tug of war” between the positive aspects of development and the concerns of neighbors.
Bruce Dean, a land-use attorney who represented the developer at Thursday’s meeting, said the residents’ concerns are a high priority for the developers and he assured the residents that they are listening to everything they are saying. He also pointed out that the plans presented are conceptual and not necessarily indicative of what will eventually come to fruition at the site.
“We hear the community and we will be ready to respond to the community when we do have a plan,” he said.
Dean also said the property is set to be sold regardless of whether this development happens or not.
George “Tim” Horman, chairman of the Mount Olivet Cemetery board of directors, said at Thursday’s meeting that the cemetery has enough space to accommodate burials for 70 to 100 years and does not need the land slated for this development. He also said the money from the sale of the land is set to go toward the upkeep of the grounds.
“The funds that we will be getting from this parcel — some, not all — will go into restoring and repairing the old part of the cemetery,” he said. “Now, if someone buys land and is buried there, we have to take a percentage and put it into a trust, a special needs trust. Years and years ago we didn’t have that, we didn’t do that.”
The city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously in July to make a positive recommendation to the board to approve it and the aldermen held a workshop at the beginning of August to discuss the details.
Approving the rezoning allows only removal of the institutional floating zone. The Planning Commission must also approve development plans, which Dean said is likely years away. He has said the developers want to remain completely transparent throughout the process, which is why they originally shared the tentative plans with the NAC 10 residents in May.
Dean pointed out in a Planning Commission hearing that the project is not expected to increase the density higher than what was originally intended for the area. The entire 102-acre cemetery was originally zoned R8, or medium-density residential. The institutional floating zone was placed on top of it because of its use as a cemetery. The R8 zone allows construction of residences in an urban residential environment with a maximum density of eight units per acre. If the institutional zone is removed, the property will automatically revert to R8.
Institutional floating zones were applied to the city’s zoning map in 2005 when the city’s land management code underwent a comprehensive rezoning. The floating zones were placed over the original zones and designate special uses for schools, hospitals, cemeteries, churches, nursing homes, government offices and more.
According to the plans, the developer intends to buy a total of about 20 acres and has applied to remove the institutional zone on the 12.74 acres to build the town houses. The senior living building is planned for the additional 8 acres near Interstate 70 and will keep the institutional floating zone. Developers have said the senior housing facility will be marketed to senior citizens making 60 percent of the average median income.
The cemetery dates to the 1850s and contains roughly 150,000 graves. Historical claims to fame include the final resting place of Frederick resident and “Star-Spangled Banner” lyricist Francis Scott Key and a “Confederate Row” where 700 Southern casualties of the American Civil War are buried.