SNOW HILL – County officials approved a text amendment this week that will allow Diakonia to establish a new facility on Route 611 in West Ocean City.
On Tuesday the Worcester County Commissioners approved an amendment to allow supported living facilities in the C-2 commercial district. Supporters of Diakonia, several of whom attended to show support for the change, said it would enable the shelter to increase its services.
“There is way more need out there now than we can facilitate and help in our present location,” said Allyson Bernard-Church, president of Diakonia’s board of directors.
According to Ed Tudor, the county’s director of development review and permitting, the text amendment will allow two-family and multi-family dwellings utilized as a shelter by nonprofit educational philanthropic organizations in the C-2 general commercial district. It also establishes parking requirements for those dwellings.
The text amendment was submitted by attorney Hugh Cropper on behalf of Diakonia last year. While Tudor and his staff initially had concerns, a mutually agreeable version of the amendment was eventually developed. The Worcester County Planning Commission gave the amendment a favorable recommendation.
“This was one that involved a great deal of work with staff,” Tudor said.
Cropper agreed that extensive negotiation had led to the proposed amendment.
“We think it’s a good one that suits the needs of Diakonia,” he said.
Bernard-Church said Diakonia had put the text amendment forward so that it would be able to build on a piece of property it had acquired on the west side of Route 611. She said officials with the organization hoped to build a mixed use facility that would include 50 housing units, the Diakonia thrift store (which is currently in a rented space), the organization’s veterans program offices, Diakonia administrative offices and space for support programs.
She said Diakonia currently received more than 200 calls a month from individuals seeking housing assistance. The shelter is forced to turn away more than it can help. A larger facility would enable the nonprofit to serve more people.
“We have worked long and hard on this,” she said. “It won’t happen tomorrow but we’re willing to continue to work long and hard on it. We need your support in order to move forward.”
The commissioners voted 6-0 to approve the text amendment. Commissioner Bud Church recused himself.
In an interview following Tuesday’s meeting, Claudia Nagle, executive director of Diakonia, said that with a new facility the organization would be able to offer permanent supportive housing — essentially affordable rental housing. While the Diakonia facility on Old Bridge Road will continue to offer emergency housing, the new project will be geared toward longer term housing.
“Emergency housing is only one small part of what we do,” she said. “If you look at trying to find affordable housing, it’s very difficult in this area.”
She said the housing would be provided based on income though final details on how it will operate have not yet been worked out.
The new facility, to be located on 3.5 acres across from the Greene Turtle, is expected to allow Diakonia to expand its array of services.
“It just adds more options,” Nagle said, adding that affordable rentals would fill a gap in the community. “We’re very excited about the possibilities.”
Nagle said the next steps would be finding funding and developing plans for the project.