Progress continues on a new, market-rate housing development in Cumberland at the former Allegany High School site.
The school, which was open from 1926 to 2018 (when the construction of the new high school on Haystack Mountain was completed), was demolished in 2022. The building was deemed to be “past its usable life” and contained hazardous building elements such as asbestos and lead that were often used in older construction. After demolition, the site (12 acres) underwent remediation to clean up any contamination so that it could be used for residential infill development.
The need for new, affordable housing in Allegany County has been an issue for some time, and that urgency only heightened as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation.
“High costs of living is a statewide crisis, but Allegany County is especially in need of affordable housing. In 2021, the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) for a family of four in Maryland was $26,500,” says Michele Walker, Executive Director of County United Way, Inc. “The most recent ALICE Report shows that 34% of Allegany County households earned more than the FPL, but less than the basic cost of living for the county, meaning they can’t afford the essentials needed to survive. It's important we provide more affordable housing for Allegany residents.”
“High costs of living is a statewide crisis, but Allegany County is especially in need of affordable housing." - Michele Walker, Executive Director of County United Way, Inc.
Jessie DeVore, a realtor with The Goodfellow Agency and President-Elect of the Historic Highlands Association of REALTORS®, says that Allegany County is long overdue to develop new, market-rate housing.
“We need market-rate housing, and what I mean by that is this: we have teachers and firefighters and local bank tellers and people in the workforce, in that median salary range, that can’t find a place to buy. We’re not having any new construction, and we have more people and more people that are coming into the area for work with no place to buy to live. The inventory is so low, and the property values have skyrocketed,” she explains. “Also, our housing market is old, our homes are old. People don’t want to buy a home and then have to spend a significant amount of money to repair it. We need fresh, new housing.”
A middle market housing study, conducted in 2021 by the I-68 Regional Alliance “identified the lack of housing for professional workers as a significant obstacle to the attraction and retention of workers needed to grow and sustain the economic development of the area.”
“Population loss is Allegany County’s greatest economic threat, and our overarching mission at the moment is to stem the flight of residents and attract qualified employers,” says Adam Strott, the Economic Development Specialist for Allegany County Economic and Community Development. “We need to have viable career paths for students that are graduating from high school and college locally. We need to be an attractive place for people to want to move. But in order to do that, we need modern housing, and we need amenities to be a livable community.”
Taking all of that into consideration, a traffic study was conducted on the site, and a conceptual master plan was developed to determine density and livability. A Request for Proposals (RFP) was then published in April 2023.
D.R. Horton, the nation’s largest homebuilder, was selected as the project developer in September 2023.
“They built 80,000 units last year, and their homes are in very high demand,” says Strott. “All of the homes are smart homes. They are built with all modern amenities, such as security systems, and they are all very well insulated, which is another issue we have with homes in Allegany County. So, we were very satisfied that they were awarded the bid for redevelopment, and they have been excellent to work with.”
D.R. Horton are currently working on a final site plan, a rendering of which should be completed sometime in the second quarter of this year.
Allegany County Commissioner Bill Atkinson adds, "We are excited to have D.R. Horton providing a much-needed mix of houses for our county. We have visited several developments in the region they are currently constructing. We saw first hand the quality and variety of houses they will be providing here. This development will begin to satisfy the housing needs of our citizens and those looking to move to our county."
Along with the developers, realtor community, educational institutions, and civic organizations, Allegany County has been working closely with the City of Cumberland on this project.
“The City of Cumberland is doing an excellent job in promoting adaptive reuse of the existing housing in Allegany County. They have a number of programs that homeowners or prospective homeowners can participate in, whether it's refurbishing problematic or blighted homes, or whether it's demolishing and infilling individual lots [similarly to this case],” says Strott. “So, what we're hoping to do is to complement what they're doing with the existing stock by incentivizing new stock, and we can operate at a larger scale because we're a larger jurisdiction than the City. We have been working with them on this project, and the collaboration has been invaluable because they are able to provide us with specific insight on the community.”
"The City of Cumberland is doing an excellent job in promoting adaptive reuse of the existing housing in Allegany County. " - Adam Strott, Economic Development Specialist for Allegany County Economic and Community Development.
These units are to be affordable for new construction and for families making a median income, costing between $200,000 and $250,000.
In comparison, the average cost for a 1,500-foot new housing unit (the same size) is $500,000 to $600,000. This is mainly due to inflation, but Maryland has also had intrinsically more expensive housing because it is one of two states — the other being California — that has legislation regarding fire suppression, including a requirement that all new single-family homes and duplexes must be equipped with automatic sprinkler systems. This can add anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 to a unit.
The county has committed to paying for the infrastructure and the neighborhood improvement to offset each unit's cost for the average homebuyer. This means the new development will not be taxpayer-funded; rather, state funding and the county’s revolving building fund, which comes from economic development activities, are planned to be utilized.
Once the final site plan is submitted, it will be presented to the community, and a development agreement will be made. Another RFP for a general contractor to construct the infrastructure and neighborhood improvements will be published. The goal is for a summer groundbreaking and construction to be completed within 18 months. However, that timeline is dependent on how quickly the units sell. The land will remain under Allegany County’s ownership until the project is completed, and then it will go to the residents and overseen by a Homeowners Association.