Frederick County can move some of its government employees into the former Montevue Assisted Living building on Rosemont Avenue, but the vacant facility must first be safe from toxic chemicals, a city panel has recommended.
The five-member Frederick City Planning Commission voted 4-to-1 Monday night to allow the move, but members want the testing done by the federal government because the building sits on 41.39 acres of land located near Fort Detrick’s Area B, a former dumping ground for chemicals that can cause cancer.
“The [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] has to sign off and say, ‘It’s safe for people to work there,’” said William Ryan, an alternate on the commission. “The EPA does have the authority, in case anybody is wondering.”
But the condition for approval did not sit well with Frederick County Attorney John Mathias, who argued that the county already has environmental contractors on site testing the building.
“I’ve never heard of any government agency doing the testing,” Mathias said. “I’m really at a loss to understand what the renovation of the existing building has do with [toxic] vapor testing. What does vapor testing have to do with a simple renovation of an office building?”
Mathias said the county would not subject employees to unsafe working conditions.
“This is really not necessary,” he said.
Josh Bokee, vice chairman of the planning commission, voted in opposition because he said the mayor and Frederick Board of Aldermen should decide whether EPA testing should be done.
“Everyone wants to ensure the safety of everyone, but that’s an issue the mayor and board would have to take up,” Bokee said. “I have concerns about how we’re doing this. That expertise goes beyond planning and zoning.”
Bokee said the city’s land-management code already includes language regulating the health, welfare and safety of people living and working in the city.
Assistant City Attorney Scott Waxter agreed, saying the land-management code deals with potentially hazard conditions.
The commission also agreed to send a letter to the mayor and alderman explaining the need for testing.
“We want to take the appropriate steps without hampering your use of the building,” Chairwoman Meta Nash said. “...I want to tie the approval to the testing the county is doing.”
The county will move its public works division, which now has 53 employees, into the remaining portion of the former Montevue Assisted Living facility, at the southeast corner of Rosemont Avenue and Rocky Springs Road in Frederick.
The Frederick County Board of Commissioners said in September that it will cost $3.995 million to renovate the old Montevue home for county employees. The commissioners have discussed selling the county building at 118 N. Market St., which now houses public works, to pay for the renovations.
Selling the current building, and renovating and using the old Montevue site will save the county about $138,000, according to a county staff report.
The 22,604-square-foot remains of the building sit adjacent to a newly-built 116,000-square-foot nursing home — Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center — and a new 40,000-square-foot Montevue Assisted Living facility, built by the county at a cost of $30 million.
The county owns the two homes, including the remains of the old Montevue Assisted Living Center. Both are located within the city limits.
The commissioners are taking steps to sell the two new homes, in an effort to save a $5 million annual subsidy to operate the facilities.
Bids for the sale were due to the county on Tuesday.
Several members of the Fort Detrick Restoration Advisory Board — which shares information with the community from state and federal regulatory agencies overseeing the cleanup of Area B — spoke out against the move.
Two members of the 10-person board appointed by Fort Detrick urged the planning commission to do vapor testing on the building before moving in county employees.
“The burden of your decision is heavy,” said Jennifer Hahn. “It may or may not be a problem, but you’re putting the cart before the horse. I don’t want to see the county get stuck with something they can’t sell years from now.”
Kimberly Mellon, who works at Fort Detrick, agreed.
“Consider the environmental [impact], before moving the county employees in,” she said. “This must be addressed, before you go any further. That building is old, and you want to make sure any testing is done before you move any county employees there.”
The former Montevue building was built in 1987.