Workforce Housing Group Disbands, Commissioners Blamed

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Workforce Housing Group Disbands, Commissioners Blamed

Leonardtown, MD - 5/1/2012

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By Dick Myers

The St. Mary’s County Community Workforce Housing Task Force has disbanded after the county commissioners refused to address the issue of workforce housing.

In a letter dated March 20, signed by all five commissioners and addressed to the task force co-chairs, Christopher Longmore and John K. Parlett, Jr., the commissioners wrote: “Although we appreciate the Task Force’s recommendations, we do not plan on taking any action at this time. The decision was not made lightly and is in no way a reflection on the efforts put forth by the Task Force.”

The St. Mary’s County Chamber of Commerce provided administrative support and coordination for the task force. In a strongly worded letter dated April 20 signed Chamber Board Chairman Joseph Densford, the business organization was highly critical of the commissioners for sidestepping the issue.

An initial report in 2007 found a critical shortage of workforce housing, the letter said. “Many individuals in occupations vital to our community’s success and stability, such as teachers, law enforcement professionals, health care workers and young professionals associated with defense contractors, were having problems with housing availability, housing costs and mortgage loans. They worked full time and made good wages, but they could not afford to live here. More importantly they began to view this community as only an interim stop on their professional journey,” Densford wrote.

The task force reconvened last year. The result according to the letter: “They found the problem has gotten worse.” It added, “While we are statistically one of the wealthiest counties in the country, the ability of those defined by the Task Force to enjoy home ownership has become more difficult. While the statistical wealth of the community has risen based on census data, a larger portion of that wealth is represented by a smaller percentage of the population. Additionally, our community has experienced a 30 percent increase in the cost of living, with the major contributing factor being the cost of housing.”

The letter goes on to say, “The recent communication from the County Commissioners regarding the decision not to take action on the issue of workforce housing is disappointing.” The letter said the task force disbanded after hearing the decision. The letter from the commissioners to the Chamber was not discussed in open session and was released after a request from the Bay Net.

Densford and Chamber Executive Director Bill Scarafia appeared before the commissioners on Tuesday to receive a proclamation for Small Business Month. Densford did thank the commissioners for tentatively putting an accelerated schedule for FDR Boulevard in the capital budget. That has been another Chamber priority.

During the same meeting the commissioners delayed moving forward with changes in the county zoning ordinance aimed at encouraging more workforce housing. The proposal from Land use and Growth Management Director Phil Shire would have lowered the open space requirements in the more dense residential categories from 50 percent to 30 percent. Shire said developers were having difficulty adhering to the 20 units per acre allowed in Lexington Park and at the same time meeting the open space requirements.

 Shire said he couldn’t point to any particular project, but said the comments on the policy ranged from it was difficult to meet to “it’s crazy.” Commissioner Cynthia Jones (R: 1st) agreed. She said, “It doesn’t make sense as a policy.”

But Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe (R: 3rd) expressed reservations, noting that the zoning ordinance update had just been enacted 18 months ago, and wanted information about the number of projects that had been held up by the policy.

And, Commissioner Daniel Morris (R: 3rd) expressed reservations about the effect of the policy on the Charlotte Hall/Mechanicsville area, even though he was assured by Shire that the most dense zoning categories were only in Lexington Park.

Morris also criticized Stanley Martin, the current developer in Wildewood. “Stanley Martin has left a bad taste in my mouth. The way they build scares me.” The commissioners’ next public forum is at Evergreen Elementary School to discuss the concerns of Wildewood residents.

Jones made a motion to send Shire’s recommendations to the planning commission, but after resistance from some of the other commissioners, the final vote was to delay everything and give Shire more time to come up with supporting data. If the proposal is to move forward it would require planning commission and county commissioner public hearings

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