A commercial parking lot at 205 Dorchester St. is tapped to welcome a 10-room, three-and-a-half story seasonal workforce housing building with capacity to accommodate 84 people. The private developer received approval recently to waive all parking requirements for the project.

A project that could eventually put a small dent in Ocean City’s workforce housing shortage took its first step toward reality last week.

As city officials race against the clock to try to bring a large dormitory-style project to a not-yet-discovered public space, a private developer is making strides to build a three-and-a-half-story, 11-room structure on Dorchester Street that would house 84 seasonal workers.

The 5,000 square-foot lot, currently used for commercial parking, is nestled between two modest buildings at 205 Dorchester St. near the inlet. The developer aims to create housing for J-1 work and travel students, H-2B Nonimmigrant Temporary workers, American college students, and anyone else classified as a seasonal worker. And in order to make it happen, they needed a waiver from the Board of Zoning Appeals for all of the parking city code requires.

Zoning Administrator Kay Gordy said during a zoning board meeting on Nov. 10 that no specific language exists for regulating workforce housing, so she classified the units as rooming, boarding or lodging houses to allow the developer to waive the 16-space parking requirement.

“This is standalone workforce housing and we know that in the Town of Ocean City that’s a great desire for us to be able to accomplish that,” she said.

After some discussion, which included easing concerns about the project’s density and lack of space for vehicles, members of the zoning board unanimously approved the parking waiver request.

Chairman Alfred Harrison asked how 84 people would fit in 11 rooms, one of which is designated for an on-site manager.

Harry How, a co-founder of architect MAD Design Group, said that while the measurements are “tight,” city code allows for 70 square feet for every two people and 10 feet of closet space, which works out with the proposed size of the building.

Board members also voted to include a condition requiring that all of the residents not only would not have vehicles on the premises, but would not have them in town at all. The condition works out because most, if not all, of the residents expected to live in the building will be foreign students and other overseas workers who would not have cars.

Members of the Ocean City Development Corporation also presented a set of conditions — including abiding by the organization’s design standards, providing a space for an on-site manager, having plenty of bicycle racks and allowing only in-town employees to reside in the building — that were also approved as part of the waiver.

Glenn Irwin, OCDC executive director, said in an email that another similar project is also in the works down the street at 104 Dorchester St. That project will have 54 beds and will be ready for spring 2022.

The project at 205 may have to wait a little longer, though. Following the zoning board approval, it still has to go through several more steps, including a site plan review, before it becomes a reality.

Ann Marie Conestabile, the program director for United Work and Travel, testified during the Nov. 10 meeting about the need for this type of housing in Ocean City. The organization is one of several that places student and other foreign workers in the resort, and with covid and other challenges over the past few years, the amount of properties available to house the workers has been slim.

“My frustration is, I bring anywhere from 1,100 to 1,500 students every season,” she said. “This year, I’m allowed to bring anywhere from 1,125 to 1,150. I have 200 beds.”

This story appears in the print edition of the OC Today on Nov. 19.

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