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From The Ground Up

New Focus on Offices in Frederick

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2004; Page E01

Just off Interstate 270, in the small town of Urbana, Md., sits a brick office building that will soon be home to 250 employees who will run a data center for District-based mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

The new Fannie Mae building may not look like much to passersby, but it is part of a much larger project that over the next decade will add stores and restaurants, 3,000 houses and 2 million square feet of office space to a once-rural section of Frederick County.


Construction crews work at the site of a new office park in Frederick County. The county is particularly interested in attracting more biotech companies. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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Developers and county planners say the project is just what they want to attract to this growing region. Frederick County's population expanded by 42 percent from 1990 to 2003, according to Census Bureau data, and in the past few years, the county has experienced a boom in residential projects accompanied by big-box retail and chain restaurants.

But until now, most office development has been limited to small spaces for doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals. Now that the area it has a larger base of residents and an established retail sector, the next phase is to attract higher-end office projects, developers and county officials say.

"Frederick has been more heavily residential development, but now companies are finding their way out here to where the workers are," said Tom Natelli, chief executive of Natelli Communities, which is the developer for the office park that includes Fannie Mae's data center.

To stimulate commercial development, county planners recently rezoned 650 acres from agricultural use to office, research and light industrial uses. The rezoned land stretches north from the Montgomery border to the city of Frederick and sits between Interstate 270 and Route 355. County planners chose the location to keep development close to the highway.

"It makes it easier for a company to come if the land is zoned [for commercial use] rather than saying 'Here's a farm, develop it,' " said Marie Keegin, executive director of the county's Office of Economic Development.

Natelli's project lies in the re-zoned corridor, and it is meant to become a place where people can work and shop close to their homes, he said. His firm has already built about 1,200 houses that cost from $300,000 for a townhouse to $900,000 for a single-family house.

Natelli will start building a Giant Food supermarket early next year, and it expects to build, depending on market demand, more offices for biotech firms and financial services and data-processing companies.

County officials say they encourage companies to come to Frederick not only to add to the business base but also to alleviate worsening road congestion. About 40,000 residents commute each day on Interstate 270 to jobs in Montgomery County and other places farther south.


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