By Guy Leonard, County Times
HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Sept. 11, 2008)—The St. Marys Board of County Commissioners approved a measure Tuesday that insures some work force housing projects will be able to move forward by shedding normally required impact fees paid to the county.
Robert Schaller, head of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said that the deferral of impact fees applied to rental housing projects, while waivers applied to homes for ownership.
For the past four years the county has been offering both on state mandate, he said, and the county action reaffirmed that the program would continue here after the state provision sunset.
Schaller said that workforce housing communities like Hunting Creek and The Gateways would not have been able to be completed had the developers been made to pay the impact fees.
Creating more workforce housing stock in St. Marys has been a central issue as government officials and business leaders fear the exodus of service industry, public sector and some defense contractor jobs if people cannot afford to buy a home in St. Marys, where despite the recent downturn in the economy housing costs remain high.
A study last year by the Chamber of Commerce showed that about 61 percent of county residents were priced out of buying a median-priced house here.
This has been a really good tool to get those projects [for workforce housing] going, Schaller told commissioners.
The commissioners also modified the ordinance that allowed the deferrals and waivers by increasing the number of units that could receive the benefit.
Under the new regulation, the commissioners could choose to allow up to 60 single- family homes to be exempted and 70 rental properties as well.
The previous regulations allowed for 30 homes to be exempted as well as 50 rental units.
So far, Schaller said, the county has not used up all of its waivers for single-family homes but it has at times gone through its allocation of deferrals for rental units.
That showed that more interest remained in renting rather than buying because of high prices, he said, and that was a trend they wanted to reverse.
Were trying to encourage more home ownership, Schaller told The County Times.
Commissioner Lawrence D. Jarboe (R-Golden Beach) said he believed the new regulation would help stimulate home ownership, especially among young people.
If we can encourage young people to start owning, instead of going to rental units, thats important, Jarboe said.
Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills) was concerned that the increase in the deferral and waiver caps could reduce the amount of revenue the county received to fund its capital improvement projects.
He said he supported the regulations aims, but had to vote against it because of the increase in the cap.
He also questioned why the cap on home waivers would be increased if the cap itself had not previously been exhausted.
The measure passed by a 4-to-1 vote.
According to county government figures, the ordinance could cost the county $270,000 in waivers and $315,000 in deferrals of building impact fees.