Mayor and Council (C3 Public Forum) – June 23, 2014

PUBLIC FORUM
C-3 NEIGHBORHOOD COMMERCIAL DISTRICT
JUNE 23, 2014

Mayor Cerino called the Public Forum to order at 7:10 p.m. In attendance were Councilmembers Liz Gross, Linda Kuiper and Samuel T. Shoge, Jennifer Mulligan, Town Clerk and guests.
Mayor Cerino stated that the purpose of this meeting was to begin a dialogue between Town government and the business community.
Guests included David Keating (K&L Services), Bob and Mary Pardoe (Pardoe’s), Terri Dowling (Carrot Top, LLC), and Herb Will (Herb’s Soup and Such). Introductions were made of all in attendance and a sign-in sheet was also passed around.
Mayor Cerino stated that C-3 was an interesting zone because of its diversity. He asked what drives people to the businesses in C-3, if the seasons made a difference, was there a steady stream of customers in and out, or was there a bump in business during Town events?
Mr. Will stated that summer was his slowest time because most of his clientele is mostly from professional offices, which tend to scale back in the summer. He said that they were too far down High Street for the tourists. Mr. Keating stated that summer was slow and then business was up and down the rest of the year. Mr. Pardoe stated that he had several different businesses, such as equipment, tree work, and mulching, so they stayed busy year round. Ms. Dowling stated that she worked all over the Eastern Shore and worked with the elderly clientele on the road, while having a daycare for shift workers in Chestertown at the High Street location so her business was steady year-round.
Ms. Dowling stated that a small business network had to have market strategies in order to keep their business alive. She said that her niche was mostly business that others did not want, but the State system provided for under the Obamacare law. She said that in this area, if you do a good job, the work comes to you.
Mr. Pardoe stated that he thought too many people in business spent time away from it and that was why many businesses fail. He said that he has been through times when it was difficult to make payroll, but they dug in and weathered the storm. He said that he has had many of the same customers for a long time.
Mayor Cerino stated that last year there were many discussions on signage. He said that internally lit signs were permitted in C-3 and asked how everyone felt about the sign ordinance in Chestertown.
Mr. Keating stated that each business was allowed a sign on the building (certain square footage depending on building size) and a free-standing sign. He said that no hanging signs or banners were allowed, but the American flag was okay to hang. Consensus was that the ordinance was stringent.
Mr. Will stated that he was told by the Town to remove his “Open” flag because it was not attached to the building and was not the colors of the American flag. He said they had to do something so the building would get noticed.
Mayor Cerino stated that signage was tricky because everyone wanted people to know that the businesses were there, but if there were no restrictions it is not aesthetically pleasing. He said that nobody wanted to only see signage. Mayor Cerino asked if anyone had suggestions for changes or alterations to the sign ordinance.
Mr. Keating stated that he thought if the existing sign ordinance was policed, there would be more “evenness”. He said that he thought that those enforcing the signage showed partiality to some.
Mr. Keating stated that he has an illegal changeable sign that he uses in order to tell people about change, especially change at the hospital. He said that it was not used for business, but he did use it to promote barbeques at the Lion’s Club or events at the Prince Theatre. He said that he had to pay a couple fines as a result.
Ms. Dowling stated that she never came for a sign because it was too complicated to figure out. She said that she could not put an “Enrolling Now” banner on the fence, so she just gave up. Mr. Keating stated that a temporary permit would be issued for a banner. Ms. Dowling stated that she used the Tidewater Trader for advertising instead.
Mr. Keating stated that he was bothered by businesses that had signage all over, including signs showing what type of product they sold, along and sales, etc.
Mr. Pardoe stated that he had more than one sign on his building, but he did not think that anyone should have too many signs. He said that he has a sign for 2 international companies because he represents both of them, adding that were photocell signs. He said that he also hangs banners from time to time. Mr. Pardoe stated that he thought that business should be allowed to advertise like that, but nobody needed to see more than 1 sign for a service. He said that more important than the sign was the fact that he was cleaning up the trash and kept the store looking nice.
Mr. Pardoe stated that someone had to be realistic and say that if there were signs on a property and they were not being maintained, or there were more than 1 sign per company, there was a problem. If it was done correctly, he thought signage could add to a business. Mr. Pardoe stated that he thought highly traveled areas should not have signs that flash as it distracts the driver.
Ms. Gross asked about vacant businesses where the sign was still on the building. Mr. Pardoe stated that he thought the sign should go with the business. He said that if a business left the location and left the sign, they were certainly not maintaining it.
Mr. Keating stated that there were a lot of signs in Town that did not belong, such as the beer signs all over the place.
Mayor Cerino asked if parking was an issue in their district. Mr. Will stated that he had plenty of parking because there were lots on each side and parking on the street. He said that he can’t wait for the trail to come down High Street. Mayor Cerino stated that he thought it would be built after the roundabout was finished.
Mayor Cerino asked if there was anything that the Town could do better to create a business friendly environment. Ms. Pardoe stated that she would like to see more of the elected officials. Mr. Keating stated that quarterly meetings such as the meeting tonight would be a wonderful idea.
Mr. Pardoe stated that the Town government was facing many challenges with the Marina. He said that Town government should stay out of private business. Mr. Pardoe said that many of the empty spaces in Town are so because they were hobby stores. He said that empty storefronts at the shopping center were due to the fact that a business can’t afford to be there. He said that there are articles about Chestertown and Kent County businesses expanding, but the truth was that 22,000 people could only sustain so much growth.
Mayor Cerino stated that he mostly agreed with Mr. Pardoe in that government should stay out of private business. He said that empty storefronts in a privately owned shopping center were sad to see and the Town was the entity that handled the flack that those empty storefronts caused.
Mr. Pardoe stated that the shopping center rents were too high and the owner only had his best interest at heart and did not care about Chestertown. He said if the Town was going to get into business, the Town should have spent the money spent on the marina to buy the shopping center and control the rent for businesses, so people could actually make a living.
Ms. Dowling stated that she looked at taking over the old Happy Harry’s building on Washington Avenue but the amount they wanted for square footage was too exorbitant. She said that no business in Town could afford it. Mr. Pardoe agreed stating that he also looked into the Happy Harry’s building and they wanted $2-million for it. He said at prices like that, buildings will sit empty for a long time.
Ms. Kuiper stated that she asked for workshops to discuss updating the sign ordinance run by the Planning Commission and the Historic District Commission.
Ms. Kuiper asked if the Town had contracts with any of the businesses present. Mr. Pardoe stated that the Town buys equipment from them and Pardoe’s did repair work for the Town.
Ms. Kuiper asked about wood waste. Mr. Pardoe stated that he owned a wood waste recycling facility where they process mulch. Ms. Kuiper asked if the Town could get into the wood waste business rather than having it stored in Foxley Manor.
Ms. Kuiper asked Mr. Keating if the Town had any contracts with K&L. Mr. Keating stated that he did not deal with large equipment like the Town owned.
Ms. Kuiper asked if contracts were bid out on an annual basis. Ms. Mulligan stated that she knew that the Town had to bid out any contract over $10,000.00. She said that what contracts the Town had with local businesses was not something that she dealt with in her line of work.
Mr. Pardoe stated that other than a couple “run-ins” over the years with the Town, the Town of Chestertown has been very good to them.
Ms. Dowling stated that in accessing weekend activities there is no public restroom, hand washing area, or water fountain downtown. She said that the Visitors Center is not open in the evenings and there were limitations where people could go to use the facilities.
Mr. Will stated that another problem was that there was not a good local bank in the area. He said that credit was tight everyone and people were banking elsewhere. Ms. Dowling agreed, stating that she goes to Delaware for banking because local banks did not want to deal with her business, so right now they could not expand or open an adult day-care because they cannot be extended the line of credit required.
Mr. Will stated that the Farmer’s Market was prohibitive because you need a license from the Health Department and prepared food has been denied.
Ms. Dowling stated that her business has decided to stay small because they have no success with any local banks.
Ms. Kuiper stated that perhaps someone with a banking background at SCORE would be able to help the local businesses with banking problems.
Ms. Kuiper asked Mr. Keating if he had any problems with the 2 houses alongside his building. Mr. Keating stated that he did have a problem with the dog next door, but he thought he was no longer there. He said that the grass and weeds were growing and nobody was doing anything about it.
Mayor Cerino stated that he wanted the businesses to know that the Mayor and Council supported them and wanted to know if there were ways to better help the businesses in Town.
Ms. Kuiper stated that she wanted to know how many fines were imposed against Mr. Keating. Mr. Keating stated that he paid 2 fines to the Town.
Mayor Cerino adjourned the meeting at 8:45 p.m.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan Chris Cerino
Town Clerk Mayor

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