Subsidized housing to help Deep Creek workers

July 18, 2004|by DAVID DISHNEAU

MCHENRY, Md. - Move to Deep Creek Lake and "live where you play," the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce urges visitors. But many employees in the resort area can't afford to live where they work.

On Friday, Gov. Robert Ehrlich helped break ground for a residential development that will create affordable rental housing for workers at the lake.

The taxpayer-subsidized Mountain Village West project will put 30 townhomes this year and 30 more next year on a hill across U.S. 219 from the Deep Creek Mountain Resort, a thrumming economic engine. The one-, two- and three-bedroom units will be the first low-income housing in the lake area, where new home prices have doubled in the past five years to an average of $359,000.

"I love to market Western Maryland," Ehrlich said. "But when you market a tourist destination, the thought behind it is, 'All right, people want to come, it's beautiful, we have a lot to sell here,' but who's going to work and where are they going to live? And are they going to be able to live a quality life in quality housing in close proximity to where they work? That's what this project's all about."


Unemployment in Garrett County has been halved to about 6 percent since 1997 as the building boom created jobs in the construction trades and in the growing number of restaurants, shops, arcades and services along U.S. 219. But wages have not kept pace with the cost of housing, making it hard for even nurses and school teachers to live near the lake, said Tom Thayer, vice president of Garrettland Inc., which will manage Mountain Village West.

"We're following the path of Vail and Aspen," two Colorado ski resort towns with high housing costs, Thayer said. "The work force in this area is coming out of West Virginia. They're traveling 50 to 60 miles to get to their place of employment."

Local officials say more than 900 new full- and part-time jobs will be created over the next decade with construction of the $10 million Adventure Sports Center, featuring whitewater training facilities, and expansion of Deep Creek Mountain Resort to include more skiing, golfing and luxury lodging.

Garrett County Economic Development Director Jim Hinebaugh said ground should be broken around Labor Day for the Adventure Sports Center atop Marsh Mountain, which also is home to the Deep Creek Mountain Resort and its Wisp ski hill.

The Adventure Sports Center should help keep people working in the spring and fall, when tourist business ebbs, he said.

"What we're trying to do now is trying to round out those shoulder seasons," Hinebaugh said.

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