Ocean City Today

West OC residents concerned with J-1 renters

By Katie Tabeling | Aug 10, 2017
Photo by: Doug Phillips An aerial view of West Ocean City neighborhood Oyster Harbor

(Aug. 11, 2017) An influx of J-1 visa student workers who have moved across the bay and into West Ocean City has sparked complaints about falling property values and increased safety problems from some members of the West Ocean City Association.

“We’ve grown in leaps and bounds, but the infrastructure here hasn’t supported the growth,” said association board member Chris Remmell. “The infrastructure hasn’t allowed the community to have complexes and condos for students to obtain affordable housing. I guess there’s a need…. But if 10 people all go in on a lease, it makes it affordable here. But again, landlords are breaking restrictions, and the local community suffers.”

West Ocean City, the unincorporated area that begins on the western terminus of the Route 50 bridge, has a population of a little more than 4,300, according to the 2010 census.

It also has pockets of residential neighborhoods and townhouses and the bones of a community, with drug stores, restaurants, a supermarket and two schools nearby.

But Remmell and fellow association board member Bill Dooley said they’ve noticed that it’s growing as a place for J-1 student workers to temporarily stay, as they’ve seen more student workers making the trek across the Route 50 bridge during the summer over the past two years.

“It came to light that a parade of seasonal workers were biking and walking on two main corridors, Golf Course Road and Keyser Point Road, usually early morning or late evening. It’s not safe,” Remmell said.

“There’s more houses put up for rent as well,” Dooley added. “Cape Isle of Wight is one place that had a lot of houses, now people found out they can make more money renting to the J-1 students for $2,000 for three months.”

In West Ocean City, property owners are allowed to rent under a “tourist permit” to four or more people for less than six months if they receive approval from the county. Permits can cost from $50 to $2,500, depending on the number of rooms in the property.

But county Development Reviewing and Permitting Director Ed Tudor said that all but two zoning designations allow two a minimum of roomers or boarders in residences. Other designations allow four boarders or a “family unit” or up to five “unrelated boarders.” That doesn’t even get into the maximum occupancy rate set by building and fire codes.

But Dooley was skeptical that landlords were following regulations, getting lead inspections and tending to trash issues.

“We’re a family-oriented community for the working class, and there’s always been pride in living in West OC. Our property values are going to go down because nobody’s going to want to buy a house where’s there’s trash cans sitting out front, and trash all over the place,” he said. “To me, that’s not a residence. It’s a business.”

Dooley added that the West Ocean City community had concerns about noise from students partying, and how little the Sheriff’s Office can do to enforce it because of manpower concerns or it’s unclear who owns the property.

“When you come to America and you’re away from home, yeah, you can party. I’m just saying follow the rules,” he said.

County Commissioner Bud Church, who lives and represents West Ocean City, said he plans to address these concerns after the summer season is over. The turning point, he said, came when roughly 31 Irish J-1 visa students were evicted in mid-July and looked like they would be forced to stay in sheds and garages in West Ocean City.

“There was a lot of panic, but Ocean City volunteers put them up. Regardless, we should be concerned about the number of people living in houses,” Church said. “It’s something I asked the county attorney to look into it during the winter. Looking down the road, the prices and conditions will drive more students here.”

As for the concerns about trash, Church said he saw that the primary problem was along Sinepuxent Avenue. A call to the county trash collectors quickly fixed that matter.

Church, a Realtor, was also skeptical of property values going down because of the J-1 visa student migration.

“If any property goes down, I’d be willing to buy it myself. There’s some trash out but it’s not overflowing. We might have places that have gotten multiple calls for noise one place, but it’s the same in Ocean City and Berlin. You can’t please everyone every time,” he said.

The West Ocean City Association will meet on Aug. 24 at Waterman’s Seafood Company around 4:30 p.m. Go to their Facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/WestOceanCityAssociation/.

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