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Firm goes extra mile for labor

January 23, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, Pa. - A Thurmont, Md., manufacturing firm wants to convert a large Victorian home into lodging for production workers recruited from West Virginia, said Jerry Zeigler, Washington Township's zoning enforcement officer.

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Structure Systems Inc. is asking the township for permission to convert the home at 13526 Monterey Lane into a six-bedroom lodging facility to house up to 12 people at a time.

Michael Hardman, operations director for Structure Systems, said the company has had as many as 39 West Virginians working at the plant in the last year.

They work from 3:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. "All they want to do after that is go home and go to bed," he said.

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Unemployment rates in the workers' home counties run as high as 12 percent. Hardman said the workers have to make a five-hour one-way weekly commute back and forth to their homes.

Low jobless rates in the Tri-State Area make it difficult for the company to recruit good workers locally, Hardman said.

Structure Systems wants to buy the house to save money on motel costs, Hardman said. Currently the company's out-of-state workers are billeted in motels in Thurmont and in Gettysburg, Pa.

Blue Ridge Summit is an eight-mile drive from the plant.

Employment at Structure Systems, which manufactures structural components for the building industry, has grown from 70 workers four years ago to about 300 now, he said.

The application to convert the Monterey Lane house to a lodging facility is under study by the Washington Township Supervisors, Zeigler said. At issue is whether the request is compatible with the township's zoning ordinance. It is compatible with the neighborhood the way it is today, but it may not be compatible with the wording in the zoning ordinance, he said.

The Township Supervisors tabled the application Monday night. Zeigler said they will decide if the company's request meets the requirements of the zoning ordinance for a compatible use. He said wording in the ordinance is vague. "Such use is not permitted, but it's not denied either," he said.

The area around the home is zoned commercial neighborhood, a mix of residential and light commercial use.

Attorney Stephen E. Patterson lives several blocks away from the Monterey Lane house on Norwood Avenue. He spoke in opposition to the Thurmont company's application at a meeting of the township supervisors Monday night, Zeigler said. Patterson, who was the township solicitor in the mid-1970s when the zoning ordinance was passed, is the author of the zoning section that deals with the house in question, Zeigler said. Patterson argued that the request was not compatible with the ordinance, Zeigler said.

Patterson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Zeigler produced a homemade map which showed how each building along that section of Monterey Lane is currently being used.

According to Zeigler's map, buildings near the house are put to diverse uses, including a public library, refrigeration repair shop, Catholic church, hardware store, auto repair shop and five apartment houses that were once singe-family homes.

A woman whose family built a new home on a lot behind the Wickers' house said she had no problem with the Thurmont company's request. "The only thing that could go there is an apartment house or a business," she said.

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