Saving western Maryland before it’s swallowed up
ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    JAN. 1, 2005
Can Hagerstown and other cities just beyond the sprawl of the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area be strengthened through renovation of their centers and by compact new development? That’s the question that drives Alan Feinberg and Nick Pittas. In October 2003 Feinberg, a longtime planner and designer, and Pittas, an experienced real estate investor and interior renovator, founded Central Maryland Development Inc. to carry out beneficial development in older communities that they refer to as “the ‘just over the hill cities’ of the mid-Atlantic.” From an office in Frederick, they are focusing their efforts on Hagerstown, Brunswick, and a few other communities (mostly in Maryland) that lie between 50 and 100 miles from Washington and Baltimore. Some of the long-settled but not necessarily thriving communities could be linked by mass transit to Washington if the region develops as Feinberg and Pittas would like it to. The two developers assembled a well-credentialed advisory board and recently convened a gathering in Hagerstown to discuss the potential of that small, predominantly blue-collar city. On the one hand, conventional suburban subdivisions with houses in the $400,000 range are beginning to appear in the Hagerstown area, threatening to merge a previously free-standing community into the generic commuter-shed. On the other hand, the University System of Maryland is opening a new campus this January in old mercantile buildings downtown. “There was great pressure to put the campus in an outlying location,” Feinberg notes. “[Former Gov. Parris] Glendenning didn’t agree.” Feinberg credits Glendenning with establishing the university in the Hub City’s center, where there are many pleasant old buildings on well-proportioned streets. The Baltimore Sun reports that downtown Hagerstown property values are up 30 percent in three years and renters are moving into lofts in turn-of-the-century buildings. Whether the onslaught of sprawl can be fended off remains to be seen. But livability does seem to be beckoning in some of the towns and small cities that investors used to pass by.