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Apartments Approved; Morris Doesn't Like Them
Lexington Park, MD - 6/29/2012
By Dick Myers
The St. Mary’s County Planning Commission on Monday approved the final phase of the more-than 600-unit apartment complex called Abberly Crest on Willows Road in Lexington Park. But, the next day Commissioner Daniel Morris (R: 2nd) criticized the number of apartment and townhouse units in the county and suggested the county consider alternative housing types.
The comments from Morris came during a discussion of the county’s Annual Growth Policy (AGP), which pegs development at an annual rate of 1.9 percent, or 799 new residences (building lots, townhouses and multi-family units) for the coming year. The policy was initiated in 2008 just as the housing bubble burst and the county hasn’t come close to reaching the ceiling since then. The commissioners approved extending that policy for the fiscal year that begins in July.
But Morris said he had recently traveled through the south and saw what he called four-plexes, which are four single-family residences surrounding a small green space. Morris said people living in apartments and townhouses are “packed in like sardines.” Morris opined that that wasn’t the way to live. About the four-plex, he said, “At least they can have a small garden.”
Morris asked Land Use and Growth Management (LUGM) Director Phillip Shire and Capital Facilities Planner David Chapman, who made the AGP presentation, to consider what he had seen in the south as a housing alternative. Shire responded that they would take a look at it.
Apartments are considered a lower-cost alternative for many young families seeking workforce housing. They also are often the only alternative for the large number of people transferred to the county by contractors for short-term work.
Duane Swann, manager of the Apartments at Wildewood, said his 365-unit complex is 98 percent occupied and the greatest demand is for short-term, six-month rentals for the contracting community. Apartments at Wildewood is completely built-out.
Paul Fenton of Coldwell Banker in California said, “It does seem there has been an increase in interest to rental property.” While St. Mary’s County hasn’t been as hard-hit by the housing foreclosure crisis, those subject to foreclosure or short sales are faced with no other option than to rent since they can’t get another mortgage. Fenton said the foreclose rate seems to have declined because banks are working more3 closely with the mortgage holders to resolve the issues if possible.
Fenton said the economic decision by Abberly Crest to complete its project was an indicator of the demand for apartment rental housing. The planning commission gave the concept approval for the final 158 units on eight acres as well as a clubhouse.
The AGP limits the number of multi-family units in the county to 100 per year. Those units are counted at preliminary or final approval. Although Abberly Crest was seeking concept approval, LUGM staff still recommended that approval be given at the meeting for just 100 units and the remaining 54 were to become effective on July 1 at the beginning of the next fiscal year. The planning commission gave unanimous approval
The final phase of the apartment complex will use the existing entrances on Willows Road. The staff report on the project said, “The site is well-suited for the proposed use.”
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