Public Input On Workforce Housing Site Process Requested

OCEAN CITY — The proposed locations for seasonal workforce housing projects remain uncertain, but what is known this week is the public wants to be involved in the decision-making process.

Holtz Builders out of Wisconsin has expressed a desire to build one or more dormitory-style seasonal workforce housing projects in the resort area. Holtz Builders has had success in developing seasonal workforce housing in other resort areas to help address labor shortages and provide clean, safe and affordable accommodations for employees, both international J-1 visa students and domestic employees.

When the concept was first pitched to the Mayor and Council, it appeared the Park-and-Ride in West Ocean City was the front-runner. Last week, it was learned there were significant obstacles to overcome with the Park-and-Ride and a municipal lot at 100th Street emerged as a new front-runner. Other locations include the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) model block in the downtown area.

No matter what location, it became clear this week the public is keen on being involved in the decision-making process. During the public comment period on Monday, resident Martin Brannigan told the Mayor and Council his condo community borders the proposed 100th Street location.

“Two weeks ago, there was a discussion on seasonal workforce housing,” he said. “I was told it was supposedly far into the future. Last week, I read it had basically been narrowed down to two sites, including the one right next to our condo development.”

Brannigan said it was imperative that neighboring property owners are afforded an opportunity to participate in the process.

“I would like to know if there is a timetable for the decision-making and construction,” he said. “Once you get down to one location on which you decide to build this, will there be a public forum?”

Brannigan questioned the extent to which the seasonal workforce housing would be utilized.

“This is supposed to be for seasonal employees,” he said. “You’re talking about three, four-story buildings. I would like to know who is going to occupy these buildings in the offseason. This is not an insignificant project. If you’re determined to go through with this, it could potentially change the quality of people’s lives, lower property values, and increase noise and trash, then I think the public has a right to be heard.”

Brannigan also questioned the obstacles with the Park-and-Ride site.

“The largest property I can think of among the five sites proposed is the West Ocean City Park-and-Ride,” he said. “I understand there are zoning problems and environmental issues, but also heard it was nothing that couldn’t be worked out. I would like to know more specifically about the drawbacks to the Park-and-Ride location.”

Local property owner Scott Chismar also spoke about the potential seasonal workforce housing project at a downtown location. He said the various condo boards in the downtown area keep in close contact and are abreast of the potential changes that could alter the landscape. He was addressing the seasonal housing issue, but also pointed out the potential development of the old Holt’s Landing property with a new hotel downtown.

“On any given day, a few decisions could really change the downtown area,” he said. “Obviously, the Holt’s Landing property is huge to everybody. The seasonal housing project has been considered for the whole model block and I have a lot of the same concerns. It would be nice if we had some kind of a forum for these downtown condo associations that would be most affected to at least have a voice in what’s going on.”

Chismar pointed out low-rent government-subsidized housing could potentially squeeze some downtown property owners out of the seasonal rental game.

“I do have rental properties, but I don’t rent out to the seasonal workers,” he said. “Mostly, mine are old school Saturday to Saturday rentals. This notion of government-subsidized housing and low-rent housing can really have an adverse effect on a lot of property owners that do rent their housing to seasonal workers. It’s not exactly a fair playing field. Some of them will lose their businesses because they can’t compete with the government.”

Later in the meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out there was not enough seasonal housing inventory available to meet the summer workforce demand.

“It has been established there is a demand for workforce housing that exceeds the inventory we have,” he said. “What the Mayor and Council is trying to do is determine what the need is. Right now, there is not enough availability to meet that demand. We’re going to work through it and keep everybody involved in the process.”

Meehan assured the public would have ample opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.

“It will be a long process and there will be plenty of opportunities for public input before any decisions are made,” he said. “That’s how this body operates. Some of the locations might be eliminated before they even reach that stage because of other obstacles. I assure you everybody will have an opportunity to weigh in no matter where they are.”

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.