By Donald Wittkowski
Ocean City’s public housing agency faces a pivotal – and expensive – decision whether to build an even larger expansion project to replace its flood-prone Pecks Beach Village housing complex for senior citizens.
Pecks Beach Village was swamped by storm waters from Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, underscoring the need to develop new housing in a location less vulnerable to flooding. It continues to suffer from flooding during storms and even in high tides.
During the Ocean City Housing Authority’s monthly board meeting on Tuesday, it became clear just how easily the area can flood. Torrential rain from the remnants of once-Hurricane Florence left knee-deep storm water Tuesday evening on Fourth Street in front of Pecks Beach Village as well as the housing authority’s administrative office across the street.
The authority’s board members and staff frequently cast nervous glances out of the windows during the meeting to watch the flood waters rising higher seemingly every few minutes as the deluge became more intense. After the meeting, they waded through the water to rescue their cars from the flash flooding.
City Councilman Bob Barr, who serves as chairman of the authority’s board, joked at the beginning of the meeting that the “storm of the century” was underway. The downpour delayed the arrival of the authority’s solicitor and accountant for a few minutes.
Ocean City is in the midst of building a $7.9 million drainage project in the north end of town, including the area surrounding Pecks Beach Village, to alleviate flooding.
Flooding around the Pecks Beach Village complex over the years has led the housing authority to propose building a new 20-unit senior citizens affordable housing complex.
However, two separate sets of construction bids over the summer came in well above the project’s estimated $4.2 million cost. The bids ranged from $5.5 million to $5.8 million, prompting the authority to reject them.
Now, the authority is considering a larger project, 34 units in all, in hopes of getting the housing complex completed.
Rick Ginnetti, of the Brooke Group, the housing authority’s development consultant, told the board members it is unclear where the agency would secure the extra money to build a larger project.
Although a bigger project would cost around $2 million more overall, the cost per unit would be significantly lower and might make it easier to finance, Ginnetti explained.
“If you could find the money, it would be the smart thing to do,” Ginnetti said in an interview after the meeting.
Barr, in a separate interview, said he would also be in favor of building 34 units instead of 20 if the financing becomes available.
“If we could find the money, we would like to do the 34 units, obviously,” Barr said.
In the meantime, the authority plans to “gather all the facts” about possible sources of funding before reaching a formal decision whether to build 20 or 34 units, Barr noted.
The authority has proposed building a two-story senior citizens project on what is now a parking lot adjacent to its Bayview Manor housing complex at Sixth Street and West Avenue. Funding from a federal Hurricane Sandy recovery grant would help finance construction, but other money would be needed.
Ginnetti explained to the board members that if the project is expanded to 34 units, it would allow the authority to move 14 ground-floor units inside Bayview Manor to the upper floor of the new housing complex. The 14 units at Bayview Manor are below flood level, so it would make sense to move them to the higher floor of a new housing complex, he added.
In addition to needing more money to build it, a larger housing project would require new construction bids and a whole new series of regulatory approvals, Ginnetti said. He estimated it would likely add seven to eight months to the project.
“There is a path to get there that I think we can follow,” Ginnetti said of his belief that a bigger project is possible.
Originally, the authority had hoped to begin construction by year’s end and have the project completed by late 2019.
The Ocean City Housing Authority uses federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide affordable housing for low-income senior citizens, families and the disabled at its Pecks Beach Village and Bayview Manor facilities.
Pecks Beach Village also includes a 40-unit complex for low-income families. That part of Pecks Beach will remain open after the new project is built because it sits on slightly higher land than the senior citizens complex and does not flood as much.
Eventually, though, the authority would also like to replace the family units at Pecks Beach Village with new housing. Ginnetti spoke of tentative plans to possibly build 60 new units of family housing in place of the existing complex.