Higher Costs To Build Homes In Ocean City Questioned

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week heard a passionate plea from a local resident to ease the cost of building a home in Ocean City and it appears the message did not fall on deaf ears.

During Monday’s public comment period, local resident Greg DeMarco questioned the Mayor and Council on the vast difference in the cost of building a new single-family home in the resort compared to neighboring Delaware. DeMarco said he has a lot in the north end on which he is planning to build a new home, but the exorbitant costs of various permits and fees has him looking elsewhere.

“I want to address the major difference it costs to build a home in Worcester County compared to Sussex County, Delaware,” he said. “I have a lot in Ocean City and I’m trying to build a modular home on it. I have been working with two different builders and each one has told me to expect it to cost $40,000 to $50,000 more to build it in Ocean City.”

DeMarco outlined a litany of additional fees and permits required in Ocean City that continue to pile on to the cost of building a new single-family home.

“Each of these things by itself is not too big a deal, but the cumulative effect of all of these permits and fees is overwhelming,” he said. “I’m just having trouble grasping how it will cost $40,000 to $50,000 more to build here.”

Perhaps the most onerous is the additional cost of mandated sprinkler systems in single-family homes in Worcester County. DeMarco said a sprinkler system costs around $7,000 in a one-story home, while the number jumps to $14,000 if a second floor is added.

“It makes it almost impossible for me to build a two-story home in Worcester County,” he said. “You can see why I feel overwhelmed. I hope Ocean City looks to the County Commissioners to find a way to stop this sprinkler system mandate within city limits.

Ironically, DeMarco’s plea comes at a time when Worcester County is battling the state of the sprinkler system mandate for new single-family homes. Late last month, the county commissioners voted to allow potential homeowners to opt out of installing residential sprinkler systems. This week, state fire safety officials fired back Worcester County could run afoul of the law if they allowed homeowners to opt out of installing residential sprinkler systems.

DeMarco said he has resisted a move to Delaware despite suggestions to do so from friends.

“People have said ‘why don’t you just move to Delaware,’” he said. “Ocean City is my home and I love living here. I don’t even mind paying higher real estate taxes because Ocean City offers so much more in services than Delaware does. What I do object to is paying $40,000 to $50,000 more for the same house.”

DeMarco also pointed to homeownership-friendly programs in nearby Salisbury such as the House Keys for Employees program which encourages workers to build homes and live in the city.

“Salisbury is encouraging its employees to live in the city,” he said. “The city helps homebuilders out with closing costs and other expenses and encourages them to live and work and enjoy their city. The practice is very common in local government.”

While the Mayor and Council listened attentively to DeMarco’s pleas for a friendlier building environment, it’s important to note some of the fees and permits about which he complained fall outside the purview of the town of Ocean City. For example, the sprinkler issue is largely between the county and that state. In addition, certain costs associated with flood insurance, for example, are mandated by the state and federal government.

However, there are some fees and permits unique to Ocean City, and the Mayor and Council seemed receptive to at least exploring how to ease some of them. Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out some elements of the most recent iteration of the town’s strategic plan call for “attracting young families,” and “eliminating barriers to encourage new construction.”

“You’ve touched on something I mentioned earlier in the strategic plan even though that is only part of what you talked about tonight,” Meehan told DeMarco. “Right in the strategic plan it says eliminate impact fees and encourage new construction. It’s right here in the plan. I have been in favor of eliminating impact fees for single-family homes.”

Meehan encouraged Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville to explore the elimination of impact fees for single-family homes.

“I’d like to get a report from Mr. Neville on impact fees and really how much of that is attributed to single-family homes,” he said. “I’d like to find out just how much it would save the average homebuilder by eliminating some of that.”

As far as the suggestion for mimicking some of the programs Salisbury has in place to encourage people to build in the city, Meehan said that deserved some exploration as well.

“I’d like to have staff look into the programs like House Keys for Employees and how maybe that is something we can explore here,” he said. “I’d like to bring that back for a work session.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.