New housing, zoning at odds in historic Frederick

Nexus Energy Homes representatives have asked to be removed from Frederick’s historic district, but not for the reason neighbors suspect, according to Mike Murphy, a Nexus division president.

Nexus wants to keep building homes according to architectural designs the Historic Preservation Commission approved before Nexus came on board in 2009, Murphy said; what happens to the neighborhood known as Hope VI near Bentz and Sixth streets concerns the builders as much as the neighbors.

Now under construction where dilapidated public housing once stood, Nexus houses are designed to capture enough solar energy to run themselves and put some energy into the electric grid, so the net result is no energy bill and no carbon “footprint.”

Since the project broke ground last summer, buyers have put contracts on 23 of the 55 Nexus home sites, Murphy said. Being in the historic district is a marketing point that Nexus likes, but the design requirements applied to historic properties seem out of place on all-new construction, Murphy said.

A group calling itself Friends of Historic Preservation is circulating fliers urging neighbors to oppose Nexus’ rezoning request to get out of the historic district. Removing the historic designation “allows for inferior building materials, incompatible buildings and the possibility for McMansion-type homes,” the flier stated.

Members of the group were unable to respond Friday to requests for comment.

“I think it’s been misinterpreted what we’re trying to do,” Murphy said. “They think we’re trying to change the whole package. We’re not.”

Jennifer Dougherty was Frederick’s mayor when Hope VI was envisioned by residents, elected officials and the Frederick Housing Authority.

“I can’t imagine why they would want to get out of the design standards now,” Dougherty said.

Putting all new construction into the historic district was a highlight of the city’s successful application for $16.7 million in federal funding from the Hope VI program, which replaces severely distressed public housing communities with housing for mixed-income residents, she said. The project required more than $40 million in private funding.

The preservation commission’s watchful eye made the project better, Dougherty and Alderman Michael O’Connor said.

“We knew what we were looking for,” Dougherty said.

O’Connor, the aldermanic liaison to the preservation commission, said he is not sure the city’s historic district guidelines account for a larger-scale multi-unit development project such as Nexus, but he wants to make it work.

Nexus homebuyers may have to take an additional step or two if they want modifications, he said, but the planning department or preservation commission has approved most similar requests.

“I believe we can make it work in the historic district,” O’Connor said.

Nexus has “been a great asset to the city of Frederick and to the historic district,” he said.

In meetings on Nexus homebuyer requests for modifications, O’Connor said, he has seen the commission make allowances in considering new versus historic construction.

Members of the commission could not be reached for comment. Prospective buyers have asked for interior changes that builders outside the historic district could make without further city approval, Murphy said. In the historic district, some of those changes

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