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Housing Authority of Calvert County officials updated county commissioners on a five-year-old affordable housing project during a work session Tuesday morning.

Wayne Boyle, executive director of the housing authority, said the project, called Calvert Faire, is an affordable housing project slated to be built on land donated by the commissioners several years ago.

In 2008, Boyle said, the commissioners granted to the housing authority part of the old fairgrounds off Dares Beach Road in Prince Frederick for the creation of affordable housing, which would be sold to county residents who made below 80 percent of the median income. Another purpose for the project, he said, was for the housing authority to derive revenue from the home sales to finance other projects since their traditional funding source would decrease or completely stop funding.

The housing authority then began working with an engineering firm to develop a “cottage concept,” Boyle said, but nothing could be done with the property until the county decided how much of the land was going to be used for the current Park & Ride.

Initially, the housing authority was going to use 6.4 acres to build the cottage-style homes; however, the expansion of the Park & Ride, coupled with a stormwater system at the bottom of the property, decreased the acreage to about 4.4, thus decreasing the number of units that could be built.

Current zoning regulations for the Prince Frederick Town Center also lowered the number of units that could be built because they “simply do not allow for this type of building,” Boyle said. During discussions, a suggestion was made for the housing authority to wait until the new town center ordinance was created so accommodations could be made, but that has only extended the length of the project, he said.

For these reasons, the number of units planned for the property decreased from 48 to 21, Boyle said.

“What this represents now is … everything that is done as far as mapping out these 21 units can be accommodated under the existing ordinances,” Boyle said, adding that even 21 units may be “too high” of a number in terms of aesthetics. “Everything we had planned to do originally … simply didn’t do that.”

Currently, the plan has “gone through the first test of viability” with the Department of Community Planning and Building and the next step would be the technical design and then the final plat, Boyle said.

Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said the estimated cost for one of the affordable, cottage-style homes is $247,000. Clark said townhomes in Oak Tree Landing near the property for the proposed affordable housing sell for $270,000. He asked Boyle how many homes in the county currently were listed for less than $250,000.

Boyle said the number of homes sold from month to month is about 75, with “roughly 40 to 45 percent of those” sold for less than $300,000.

“The cost of [the townhomes] is pretty close to what you need to sell these units for,” Clark said. “I support the housing authority … I’m just wondering if this idea is past its time now.”

Clark suggested the housing authority consider selling the land to a developer and using money from that sale to modernize or expand some of the existing housing complexes in the county.

“How much money would you get for that 5 acres as opposed to what you’re gonna get going through this whole process of building these houses, when the townhouses are going to be priced at the same price of what you consider to be workforce or affordable housing?” Clark asked. “I’m just thinking this is a lot of work and a lot of time. … Right now, we seem to have an inventory of affordable, workforce housing.”

Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said it might benefit the housing authority financially to follow Clark’s suggestion, but the Calvert Faire project will provide something “that’s really missing” in the town center. She said the cottage-style homes would be attractive to an older person or couple who may want a smaller yard or no stairs to climb.

“It provides a housing type that I think is missing in Prince Frederick right now,” Shaw said. “Now, whether it’s worth it for the housing authority to provide that type of housing versus as Commissioner Clark says … you’re going to have to decide that, but I do see the value for the public.”

Clark said the original purpose of the project was to provide affordable housing for people, such as new teachers or sheriff’s deputies, not downsizing options for older couples.

“That was the purpose of which we gave you that property to run with, was affordable housing for people that worked in Calvert County … [who] claimed they couldn’t afford to live in Calvert County,” Clark said. “All I’m saying from my earlier statement is does that still exist? If it doesn’t, should we be moving forward with this? If there is a demand for the type of units that Susan is talking about, the free market and the developers in the community will do that.”

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said the economy has not improved since its collapse in 2008, which is something he is very concerned about.

“We need to be very careful … in moving forward on a project in such a downed economy,” he said.

Shaw said “the real question” is whether there is a continuing need for that type of housing and requested the housing authority send the commissioners a “summary of the ordinance” that caused problems for the project.

“I really want the housing authority to take a second look at this, and if you decide that this is the way you want to go, then move forward,” she said.

kfitzpatrick@somdnews.com