OC OKs $6.65M Bond for Housing; FIT May Challenge

Here is an article on FIT from the last City Council meeting in which FIT members discussed Affordable Housing.

 

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City Council approved a $6.65-million bond ordinance that will fund the expansion and improvement to public housing in the barrier-island city.

That includes the construction of a multi-story building on West Avenue and the eventual demolition of the units on the north side of the Pecks Beach Village development at Fourth Street.

It comes as part of a series of steps under the city’s settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center to increase the affordable housing in the resort. Steps outlined in the agreement include zoning changes and city spending of up to $10 million, starting with the bond ordinance.

The bond will help the Ocean City Housing Authority’s plans for a new building at 610 West Ave. on a parking lot adjacent to the existing Bayview Manor. A 20-unit facility will be known as the Speitel Building, named for the late authority commissioner, Ed Speitel.

There will also be renovations to the existing building. Seniors living in one section of Pecks Beach Village on Fourth Street will be moved to the facility, and the bungalows demolished to make way for new units on that property.

Eventually, plans call for a new shared-service agreement to build 40 family units on the north side of Fourth Street, and 20 family units on the south side, likely with further financial help from the city.

The 1960s-era units in Pecks Beach are prone to flooding and city attorney Dorothy McCrosson argued that they do not fit with the character of the town. Plans call for future projects to be indistinguishable from the neighboring properties, she said, suggesting that is better both for the residents and for the city as a whole.

“Will it look like barracks? Or will it look like everybody else’s neighborhood and just be a series of duplexes?” she asked later in the meeting. “No high rises. No buildings that look like projects. Building that looks like homes.”

Councilman Robert “Bob” Barr, who also serves as chairman of the Ocean City Housing Authority, recused himself from the vote, which was otherwise unanimous.

The vote came March 28, over the objections of members of the group Fairness In Taxes (FIT), who argued that even if the work is needed, it should not be funded by local taxpayers. Members of the group suggested they may try to scuttle the bond ordinance.

Last year, the organization derailed another bond ordinance, set to fund the purchase of a former car dealership at 16th Street and Simpson Avenue. In that instance, FIT launched a petition drive to bring the ordinance to a referendum. The city instead repealed the ordinance, saying the vote would delay the funding until after the agreement of sale had expired.

FIT President David Hayes told council that the group was weighing its options to challenge the ordinance. At the meeting, FIT member David Breeden indicated this bond ordinance may not be able to be challenged in the same way. He said the group was talking to its attorney.

Earlier in the day March 28, FIT representatives met with McCrosson and Finance Director Frank Donato to discuss the ordinance. Members thanked them publicly for taking the time to answer their questions but made clear they had not been convinced to support the ordinance.

“We’re going to study the information they provided very carefully and along with what’s mentioned tonight we’ll determine the course of action that’s appropriate for us,” Hayes said at the start of the March 28 meeting. “We were successful in the fall with our past petition drive and this year we’re even better positioned for another drive.”

Hayes said FIT takes very seriously the decision whether to launch another petition drive to overturn the ordinance. He said a local government run by petition would mean lots of noise, but not much getting done.

“We do not want significant or considerable taxpayer dollars going to bail out the Ocean City Housing Authority,” he said. Breeden argued that the authority is in bad shape. “If it were not for the generosity of Ocean City and the taxpayers of this town, the housing authority would not exist. It’s struggling but we do recognize that with new management in place things are turning around.”

City officials said the authority has seen improvements since the arrest of former executive director Alesia Watson on embezzlement charges. She was sentenced to three years’ probation in 2017. But Breeden suggested the current plan places an undue burden on Ocean City taxpayers.

Several members of council described the people who live in the housing authority units as an important part of the community.

Keith Hartzell said there are no better options to meet the affordable housing requirements. He said the primary concern for most taxpayers is increased density.

The city took other steps on affordable housing, which could have long-lasting effects on density in the city but saw no comment from the public.

The first amends the city’s density requirements in the zoning ordinance to allow for more affordable housing. The second ordinance creates an overlay zone for the city’s duplex zones, allowing multi-family dwellings in that zone if the developer has at least a quarter of a block and a portion of the new units are set aside as affordable housing.

As McCrosson explained to council, both ordinances are part of the city’s approved fair share housing plan, allowing developers greater density in some new construction.

“The incentive is more density. The give-back is affordable units,” she said. Both ordinances were included in the city’s master plan and were reviewed and endorsed by the city’s Planning Board, she said.

Also March 28, the city approved a $7.9-million bond ordinance to fund a number of improvements and projects throughout town. Donato said the bond was consistent with the capital plan, including improvements on the beachfront, projects for recreation facilities, purchase of vehicles and more. One project would see the installation of a charging station for electric vehicles.

To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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