A recent spurt of shopping center development in Frederick County has created a glut of retail space in some sections.

Six new shopping centers have been completed in the past year in Frederick County and eight others are under construction. By comparison, only eight existed before the building boom began in 1985. David Wilkinson, coordinator of economic development for the county, said the new construction represents a total of 1.1 million square feet of new retail space.

The result has been an oversupply of retail space in some sections of Frederick, particularly along the "Golden Mile" on Rte. 40 on the city of Frederick's western perimeter, said Alex Dmyterko, a project manager for Trammell Crow Co., which is building a 130,000-square-foot shopping center south of the city.

In the past year, the number of shopping centers along the Golden Mile, named for escalating land prices there, has doubled to six, with two more under construction, Dmyterko said. "It's a Rockville Pike for a much smaller population," he said.

Although Frederick County's population has increased steadily in recent years, the development boom there has outpaced what both developers and local officials describe as the county's "robust growth." Between 1980 and 1987 the population grew 18.4 percent, to 135,960 from 114,792, as growth in the northwestern suburbs of Washington pushed outward.

But Dmyterko said that increase is not enough to support the number of shopping centers being built in the area.

"We do have centers with vacant space," Wilkinson said. "It's pretty obvious that there is a lot of space coming on line ... and it will be a few years before all the space is absorbed."

Neither Wilkinson nor Frederick city officials could say what the overall vacancy rate is for the shopping centers along Rte. 40.

Maribeth Visco, a leasing agent for Kline, Scott & Co., a Frederick property management firm, said that some of the shopping centers under construction on Rte. 40 still have not leased a substantial portion of their space.

David Whitaker, assistant zoning administrator for the city of Frederick, said shopping centers in other areas of Frederick also have not leased well. He said the Eastgate shopping center on the town's east side is only half leased.

Kathy Hovermale, general manager of the Frederick Towne Mall, a 580,000-square-foot center built in 1972, said the development craze has most of the newer projects, which are strip shopping centers, "battling among themselves" for tenants. "There are not enough small retailers opening up in Frederick" to fill the space, she said.

Consequently, shopping center owners are dropping their rents, Hovermale said. "When development first started, the going rate was $16 to $18 a square foot. Now it's about $12 a square foot," she said. "It's like a price war among gas stations."

Hovermale said the proliferation of shopping centers in the area has hit some of the older strip centers particularly hard as stores abandon them for the newer centers. Frederick County Square shopping center, an older, enclosed center on Rte. 40, lost a Giant Foods to the Westridge Square Shopping Center when that mall opened last October, and the space is still vacant.

Florence Garst, acting manager for Joann Fabrics in Frederick County Square, said the Giant used to draw customers to the other stores as well. But now that the Giant is gone, "the mall is starting to die out," she said. Garst noted that a number of other merchants have gone out of business and those with multiple locations have consolidated their operations elsewhere.

"Everything that's left is specialty stores," Garst said. "That's probably the only way they {shopping centers} can survive."

The increased competition also has spurred the centers to be more aggressive in finding tenants and drawing business. Peter Leiter, a real estate broker and vice president of Elite Development Corp., a Frederick developer, said that one way his company draws tenants is to allow them to buy an interest in the building and make them a partner in the venture. "It's like paying rent to yourself," Leiter said.

Susan Engel, marketing director for the Francis Scott Key Mall, a 717,000-square-foot center built in 1979 on the city's south end, said she has doubled her radio and advertising budget partly as a result of increased competition. She said that she used to spend $3,500 to $5,000 a month on advertising but that she now spends $7,000 to $10,000.

Bert Anderson, who is developing Everedy Square in downtown Frederick, said that shopping center development may be ahead of population growth, but that most developers built their centers in anticipation of future needs.

"The growth is undeniable here," he said. "The county has done a good job in making it an attractive place to live and work."

Leiter said the county estimates that 1,500 to 1,800 houses are being built a year, but "actually 3,000 to 5,000 are being built," he said. "There are enough studies showing that with the growth coming into the area, there will be a tremendous need," for retail space in the near future.

Robert Waltz, who built the Rosemont Center in Frederick, said that "initially, it may seem like developers are cutting each other's throats, but if they wait for growth to get there the cost will be too exorbitant for most centers."

He said developers are positioning themselves to get their market share when it comes. "They are forgoing short-term gains for the long-term gains," he said. "That's pretty much a rule of thumb in the business."

Leiter denied that developers are cutting rents to lure store owners. "It's nice to have the whole place leased, but you don't want to give away the store," he said. "Many developers have the cash to wait until a tenant comes along."

Leiter pointed to increasing land prices as evidence of the area's growth potential. He said Frederick land prices are the highest in Western Maryland, with commercial land selling for $5 to $6 a square foot. That's up from $3 to $4 a square foot several years ago, said William Bowen, a Frederick real estate appraiser.

Several developers noted that Frederick's shopping centers also attract shoppers from Montgomery County, Hagerstown and other parts of Western Maryland, so that the lag in growth is not that crucial to a center's success.

Ronald King, another Frederick real estate developer, said more national chains are expressing interest in opening stores in Frederick.

Said David Leiner, a leasing agent for the Golansky Co., which is handling leasing for the Hillcrest Plaza shopping center on Rte. 40: "People say there are too many shopping centers. But there is always demand. There will be too many when the last one built goes out of business."