Workforce Housing Code Changes Advance To OC Council; Planning Commissioner Thinks Changes Will Hurt Residents

OCEAN CITY – A code amendment pertaining to non-accessory workforce housing will advance to the Mayor and Council with several recommendations.
On Tuesday, the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to forward a code amendment relating to non-accessory employee housing to the Mayor and Council. Officials say the amendment includes changes to the tier system and what types of workforce housing projects are allowed in different zoning districts, among other things.

“I think this is a great compromise,” said Commission Chair Joe Wilson.

Last year, the commission recommended a proposed code amendment that could help address the shortage of seasonal workforce housing in Ocean City. With several proposals from local businesses and organizations to construct employee housing, officials are now seeking ways to make those projects a reality.

As it currently exists, the town code defines employee housing as accessory use, or living quarters with a portion of a main building or an accessory building located on the same site to be used by individuals employed on the premises. But officials are looking to include employee housing as non-accessory use.

As proposed, the amendment includes new terms and definitions, as well as a tier system for approving small, medium and large standalone employee housing projects.

Resort planners this week agreed that while tier one projects, with 16 or fewer residents, would be approved through the building permit process, tier two projects, with 40 or fewer residents, and tier three projects, with greater than 40 residents, would be approved through the conditional use process.

“It creates a public hearing in front of us, it creates an opportunity for it to go in front of the council,” Wilson said. “We don’t have to approve them, that’s why it’s a conditional use.”

The code amendment also included supplemental regulations for employee housing. Those regulations prohibit barrack-style housing, set occupancy limits for bedrooms, and prohibit employee housing in the R-1 single family and MH mobile home districts.

Commissioner Palmer Gillis, however, argued that allowing non-accessory workforce housing in all other zoning districts could impact residents.

“When you start looking at this map and start looking at statistics as far as acreage, you are looking at 76% of the island that this impacts,” he said. “I, for one, think that the R-2s and the R-3s are going to have an impact to the R-1s and other neighborhoods by passing this ordinance, this code change. So I’m suggesting that we crawl, walk, run.”

Gillis said developers were allowed to seek things such as parking exceptions from the town’s board of zoning appeals. He argued if a project with no parking was approved in areas such as R-2 and R-3, it could push parking into other residential districts such as R-1.

“I hate impacting our existing residents. I’m thinking out loud here, but I’m suggesting we eliminate R-2 and R-3 in this package,” he said.

Wilson disagreed.

“There are plenty of R-2 districts that are standalone and don’t touch R-1 districts,” he said. “I think you are limiting what we are trying to create, an incentive program.”

Wilson argued that requiring a conditional use for large-scale projects would give the commission some control as to what projects are approved in various zoning districts. He said it could also send unfavorable recommendations to the Mayor and Council.

Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville said the commission could change the code amendment to restrict what types of projects go in certain districts. He said tier one projects could be limited to R-2 and R-2a districts, while tier one and tier two projects could be limited to R-3 districts.

“What that does is if you change what’s allowed in each of those two zoning districts, then the largest projects could only go in zoning districts that are higher than R-3,” he said. “If you make that change, it creates an incentive in the way the ordinance is set up.”

The suggestion ultimately received the support of the commission.

“That’s a great compromise,” Gillis said.

After further discussion, the commission voted unanimously to forward the non-accessory code amendment to the Mayor and Council with several recommendations contained in a separate report.

The commission recommended to keep parking requirements for employee housing in place and to include a statement on how supplemental regulations apply to new employee housing projects and change of use when incentives such as density and parking exceptions are based on provisions of employee housing.

Members also recommended that deed restrictions be recorded after site plan approval or before a building permit, that the age of an onsite manager be set at 21 years old or older, and that any sleeping rooms require at least one window.

They also recommended a conditional use for tier two projects, changes to the occupancy range for tier two projects, and setting restrictions on what tiers are allowed in certain residential districts.

“The city council can change whatever our recommendation is,” Gillis said. “We’re just making a recommendation for a code change. They can modify as they see fit.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.