Task Force Gives More Ideas To Boost Workforce Housing

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Aug. 14, 2008)—The county government needs to do more to maintain or get rid of blighted property it owns in older more established neighborhoods in the county to ensure they are viable sources of critical workforce housing stock, according to members of task force assigned to study one of the county’s most pressing problems.

But this was just one of the updated recommendations the Community Workforce Housing Task Force presented to the members of the Planning Commission Monday night.

Preserving what are called traditional neighborhoods also fit in with recommendations like waiving economic impact fees for developers to encourage building more workforce housing units as well as possibly waiving requirements for adequate public facilities for some housing construction projects.

The newest recommendations, say task force members, are all designed to ensure that St. Mary’s County can keep its well-trained and well-educated workforce from moving away.

The task force presented a report to the Board of County Commissioners last year that showed that about 61 percent of county households who made $75,700, the median local income, could not afford to buy a home at the county’s median price of $337,501 as of 2006.

Robin Finnacom, task force member and president of the Community Development Corporation, said that the county has already put more funding towards preserving older communities, with their concurrently smaller and more affordable homes, through the Neighborhood Preservation Program, but blighted government-owned properties were still a problem.

“We’re seeing some hesitancy to deal with these buildings,” Finnacom said of the recent task force findings.

Denis Canavan, director of the county’s Department of Land Use and Growth Management, said that more incentives are important to get developers to build more affordable housing.

“Economically they have to have the incentive… and what we’re doing now is apparently not working and we need to find out why it’s not working.”

Canavan also recommended that developers be allowed to reduce the amount of open space they are required to have in a development to induce them to build more affordable housing.

And despite the trend in other counties like Charles and Calvert and nationwide were housing prices are falling, the costs here in St. Mary’s continue their upward trend.

“Our sale prices are still going up,” said Quincy Williams of First County Mortgage and task force member. “And that’s making it more difficult for firsttime home buyers.”

Key members of the county’s workforce, such as technicians on Patuxent River Naval Air Station and even teachers in the public school system could choose to leave the area and deplete the local economy because they simply got tired of renting, said task force member and attorney Christopher Longmore.

It was a trend that was already starting to surface.

“We’re just afraid that young professionals who make up the backbone of the workforce can’t afford to purchase a home,” Longmore said.

The planning commission, in other business, gave initial approval for the development of more than 900,000 square feet of retail space on Route 235.

The plans for Oak Crest Center have been on the books for about 17 years but the developer, Cecil’s Mill LLC, has been trying to reinvigorate the project.

The planning commission declared however, that the developer must meet the parking and storm water management requirements of current law, not those of the law 17 years ago, and must give an update of the project after the second phase is completed or by June of 2012.

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