The St. Mary's County commissioners agreed this week to support an affordable housing development along Willows Road in the Lexington Park area, a project being led by the Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee Inc.

The development, called Hunting Creek, would include 100 units -- 30 in duplexes and 70 townhouses -- on 20 acres that are part of a larger tract donated by Facchina Construction of La Plata.

"There's need all over," said Swynice M. Hawkins, acting president of the Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee. Residents "just can't afford the market rate that we have now."

By Sept. 6, the organization and Osprey Property Companies, an Annapolis-based developer, plan to apply for a federal tax credit for the project, Hawkins said. The Board of County Commissioners' support of the project was expected to help that petition.

"This [has] a very good chance to be awarded tax credits given where we stand," said Corbin Anderson of Osprey.

Located about a mile from Willows Road's intersection with Route 5, the development is targeted to serve people who earn from 30 percent to 60 percent of the county's median income, Anderson said. The rents are expected to range from $300 to $500 a month, Hawkins said.

The developers expect construction to begin in December 2006, with units ready to be occupied a year later. The development will become home to some of the people relocated from the soon-to-be-demolished Lexington Manor community near the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

Last year, the Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee completed Brawners Estates, an affordable housing complex of 111 single-family units in Bryans Road in Charles County. In Calvert County, the group is working on a 150-unit Prince Frederick complex called Yardley Hills. Hunting Creek would be the group's largest project in St. Mary's.

"We're very pleased that that's moving forward," said Commissioner Thomas A. Mattingly Sr. (D-Leonardtown). "It's something that's sorely needed in the community."

A Matter of Trust

As he seeks to visit all 157 of Maryland's incorporated towns and cities, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) often is joined by Cabinet secretaries who offer suggestions for enlisting the state's help in areas such as transportation or housing.

Department of Planning Secretary Audrey Scott even has a catchy slogan for the local government leaders she meets: "We're from the government, and we're here to help you," Scott told La Plata town officials during Steele's visit Tuesday.

But when Steele and Scott dropped in to meet the owner of a La Plata business that was rebuilt after the 2002 tornado, a different message -- apparently unnoticed -- streamed across the screen of a computer in a corner of the room: "Trust me. . . . I work for the government."

Commuter Alternatives

Commuter transportation alternatives to Virginia will be showcased Monday in a program presented by the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland.

The transportation event will feature information on vanpools and subscription bus services. Representatives from companies that plan to offer these types of services to commuters who are traveling from Southern Maryland to Virginia will be in attendance. Routes will originate in Calvert, Charles, St. Mary's and Prince George's counties in the morning and go to Virginia locations.

The program will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Waldorf Jaycees Center, 3090 Crain Hwy. in Waldorf.

Subscription bus service allows a group of people, usually working for the same employer or at a common site, to contract with a bus company to provide daily commuter trips to and from work on a continuing basis.

Such service is not subsidized by an employer, state or local government, or any regional entity. However, through its Commuter Assistance Program, the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland will help bus companies and employees set up the agreements.

All Southern Maryland commuters working in Virginia who may be interested in participating in a vanpool or subscription bus program are invited to attend the program.

For more information or to RSVP by tomorrow, call Helen Fassel of the Tri-County Council at 301-870-2520.

Civista Goes Smoke-Free

Civista Health announced Monday that all of its facilities and vehicles will become smoke-free effective Sept. 1.

The new policy will prohibit the use of tobacco products within the buildings or on the grounds of Civista facilities. However, people will be allowed to smoke in their own vehicles while on Civista's campuses.

Smoking has been banned within Civista Medical Center in La Plata for at least a decade, the announcement said. Civista officials said they are taking the additional step of implementing smoke-free campuses to further stress the health risks of smoking.

"Inhaling smoke, first or secondhand, is a life-threatening behavior that does not belong in or near a health care facility which is dedicated to saving lives," said Christine Stefanides, president and chief executive of Civista Health. "We are acutely aware that being in a hospital is a stressful time for patients and family members, which often increases their desire to smoke. At the same time, we must be concerned about the overall health consequences of smoking."

Civista's announcement said it has been preparing employees for the new policy for many months, offering smoking-cessation classes and tips.

Effective Sept. 1, the use of tobacco products within the buildings or on the grounds of Civista Medical Center in La Plata will be prohibited.