Planning Commission Meeting Minutes – December 21, 2016

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PLANNING COMMISSION

DECEMBER 21, 2016

Mr. Jeff Grotsky, Chairman, called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m. In attendance were Commission members David Bowering, Darrell Craig, Morgan Ellis, Robert Fordi and Jane Richman, Kees de Mooy, Zoning Administrator and guests.

MINUTES OF PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING

Mr. Grotsky asked if there were any additions or corrections to the minutes of the meeting of November 16, 2016. Mr. Craig moved to approve the minutes as presented, was seconded by Ms. Richman and carried unanimously.

VARIANCE – SHORE DISTRIBUTERS – 305 NORTH COLLEGE AVENUE

Mr. Matt Drew of AWD Engineers and Mr. Jim Morris, president of Shore Distributors, were present for the application. Mr. Drew stated that the existing building was 7,580 sq.ft. and used to sell electrical and plumbing supply products.

Mr. Drew stated that the proposal was to build a 4,300 sq.ft. addition on the north side of the building. A variance was necessary the front yard setback.  He said that the setbacks to the north were at 50’ and they proposed moving to a 30’ setback.  The rear setback was adequate.  The front setback is 50’, which had changed since the building was constructed, and they would like to build within 23’ of the front property line, allowing the building to be squared off in the front.

Mr. Drew stated that he did not see this expansion having any negative impact on the property or surrounding area as this business has been in place for many years. He said that the addition was consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

Mr. Morris stated that Shore Distributors would like to keep their business in Chestertown and said that they have been in operation at this location since 1963. He said that HVAC, plumbing and electrical contractors are served at this location and the arrangement has worked well.  Mr. Morris stated that they did look for larger space in Chestertown but have not found anything that would be conducive to their business model.  He said that when Shore Distributors was built, the house next door was built at the same time for an on-site manager.  He said that the house has been vacant for 12 to 15 years and would be demolished as part of the proposed expansion.

Mr. Fordi asked if adjacent property owners have been advised of the project. Ms. Mulligan stated that all neighbors are made aware of the request and are able to make comment at the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing which will be held on January 12, 2017.  Mr. Morris stated that 3 of the neighboring houses are owned by the College.

Mr. de Mooy asked if there would be landscaping of any type around the addition to soften the impact on the neighboring properties. Mr. Morris stated that most of the landscaping will not be disturbed but he saw no problem adding landscaping.  There were fences on neighbor’s properties and old growth trees on the side of the property, along with the existing house which will be demolished.

Ms. Richman stated that with the house demolished there will actually be more of a setback from the neighbors than currently exists. She asked if the rest would be open lawn area or perhaps a pocket park for the community.

Mr. Morris stated that without a variance, the size of the addition permitted would not make sense for the company. He said that if they were permitted the addition at this size, he would be happy to landscape.  He said that Chestertown has been good for his business and the business wants to be good to Chestertown.

Mr. Fordi asked if the expansion would accommodate Shore Distributors long term. Mr. Morris stated that he thought that the expansion would accommodate them long term and did not see the need for further expansion.  He said that in addition to his company, Tri-State is in the same building and they have been leasing with them since 1962.  This addition should accommodate both businesses nicely.

Mr. Craig asked if there would be site plan review for the project if the Zoning Board of Appeals approved the variance. Mr. de Mooy stated that he did not think that the threshold for site plan review would be met. Mr. Craig stated that it was important that the site have proper screening and lighting but said he was comfortable with the Town reviewing the plans.

Mr. de Mooy stated that the findings for the Zoning Board of Appeals will have to establish that the proposed variance does not cause a substantial detriment to adjacent neighboring properties; that it will not change the character of the neighborhood or district, and; that the project is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan in general.

Mr. Fordi stated that this was a significant infringement on the side yard setback of a commercial use abutting a residential one. He said that he would defer to the opinion of the neighbors in this instance, although he was accepting of the project in concept.

Mr. Bowering asked if there would be any changes to the exterior of the building. Mr. Drew stated that he did not plan on any wall packs or exterior lighting that would shine towards the neighboring properties.  He said that he has not had any real problems with there not being enough lighting as long as they have been there.

Mr. Craig moved for a positive recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals to approve the variance as submitted with the caveat that there be review of the construction and landscaping plans by the Zoning Administrator. The motion was seconded by Mr. Fordi and carried unanimously.

CONDITIONAL USE – SULTANA EDUCATION FOUNDATION – 333 SOUTH CROSS STREET

Mr. Drew McMullen of Sultana Education Center and Mr. W.S. Ingersoll for the Town of Chestertown presented. Mr. McMullen stated that Sultana was the contract purchaser of the building from the Town of Chestertown.

Mr. McMullen stated that Sultana has been operating in Chestertown since 1997. He said that staff ranges from full-time year round to seasonal staff in warmer months.  The seasonal staff usually does not live in Chestertown and will work from March through November, making it difficult to find housing as they can’t enter into a long term lease.   Mr. McMullen stated that to date, the seasonal staff either sleep on the Schooner and Sultana also rents an apartment on the 100 block of Cross Street.

Mr. McMullen stated that over the next 3 to 4 years, Sultana was looking to increase their programs, some of which would require additional seasonal staff. He said that Sultana has been exploring options for seasonal housing but was limited to the amount of people due to zoning regulations.

Mr. McMullen stated that the Sultana has entered into a contract with the Town of Chestertown to purchase the former police station at 333 South Cross Street contingent upon being able to use the facility to house seasonal staff. He said that at most there would be 12 people using the space, but it was rare that all 12 would be there at the same time due to the fact that most of the staff will be running paddling trips and camping days at a time in the field.

Mr. McMullen stated that typically from January through February there will be no more than 3 people living on site at one time. March and April may bring the total to 6 residents.  The boat generally leaves in May when new paddling staff may be brought in, where there may be up to 12 on site, but mostly 8 to 10 at a time.  He said that he anticipated full capacity only to be a couple weeks a year.  The staff in residence would then go in reverse until November.  On average, there will be no more than 4 or 5 people living there on any given day, but there may be 4 weekends in the summer where there was a full house.

Mr. McMullen stated that this location worked for Sultana as it was not too close to established residential neighborhoods, was in walking distance to the Sultana, and within walking distance to Town amenities and the Rail Trail.

Mr. McMullen stated that the only visible changes to the outside of the building would likely be a window (stable door) on the second floor that would have to be opened for fire code and possibly a fire stair in the back.

Mr. Ingersoll stated that the Town has attempted to sell the property in a few different ways for over a year and almost every prospective buyer wanted to know about residential in that building. He said that he the neighboring property is RB (Professional Office) on one side and R-5 Downtown Residential on the other.  333 S. Cross was the only C-2 (Downtown Commercial).  Mr. Ingersoll stated that an educational entity, such as the Sultana, had to go to a Board of Appeals for a conditional use approval by virtue of their identity.

Mr. Ingersoll stated that he thought the property would function more like an inn, bed & breakfast or lodge which was under the aegis of a conditional use. Mr. Ingersoll stated that this area was on its way to something else, and this use was a good fit for the community.

Mr. Ingersoll stated that he did not think most of the people staying in the building would have their own vehicles but according to the calculations 6 spaces were required for the number of people and there are 6 spaces on site. He said that there were parking lots available in the immediate vicinity if parking was necessary.

Mr. Fordi stated that he would have to recuse himself from any vote as he was on a committee associated with the Sultana and this particular project.

Ms. Ellis moved for a positive recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a conditional use for residential use for seasonal employees of Sultana, was seconded by Ms. Richman and carried unanimously.

FISH WHISTLE EXPANSION – 98 S. CANNON STREET – PARKING

Mr. Max Ruehrmund of M3 Architecture, David Blitzer, Esquire and Mr. Jeff Carroll of the Fish Whistle Restaurant were present for the application.

Mr. de Mooy stated that this is not a typical site plan review as the entire footprint of the property on which the Fish Whistle is located is developed. He said that this was more of a discussion of parking on site.  Mr. de Mooy stated that the Fish Whistle is surrounded on three sides by the Marina property, which was owned by the Town.

Mr. de Mooy stated that on June 26, 1985 the Planning Commission reviewed an application to subdivide what was then Kibler’s Marina and the Old Wharf Inn into 2 parcels. At that time, the existing 4,579 sq.ft. restaurant would have required 46 parking spaces but the Planning Commission waived the requirement and approved the site plan with 36 spaces because of the availability of parking at the Marina and elsewhere.  At that time, the majority of the parking was provided by a lease on the Delmarva Power property which was in front of the Old Wharf Inn.

Mr. de Mooy stated that in 2003 the Old Wharf Inn had to be demolished after Tropical Storm Isabel and was rebuilt the following year in a slightly larger 5,094 sq.ft. and 8’ further back from the River, eliminating a number of parking spaces in front of the restaurant. The required parking for that restaurant would have been 51 spaces, but the Planning Commission approved the site plan with 32 parking spaces with the rationale that “the business was seasonal in nature and the new building was a replacement”.

Mr. de Mooy stated that the plans for the newly renovated Marina included elevating the bulkheads to prevent nuisance flooding, new docks, boardwalk and plaza, parking and native landscaping. The proposed interpretive center will provide bathrooms and showers, marina offices, visitors’ center, retail and meeting space.

Mr. de Mooy stated that the Fish Whistle was planning renovations with decks on the south and east side of the restaurant. The Mayor and Council approved the expansion as a small portion protrudes over Town property and the approval will be formalized with an easement agreement that is currently under revision.

Mr. de Mooy stated that parking for the Fish Whistle Restaurant technically requires 1 space per 100 sq.ft. of floor area. Floor area for commercial building is defined as “the sum of the gross horizontal area of the floors per building measured from the exterior walls or the exterior faces of the exterior walls”.  Based on this definition, deck space should not be used in the calculations for parking spaces, leaving the required parking at 51 spaces.

Mr. de Mooy stated that there are 42 spaces available at the Fish Whistle for parking in the proposed parking arrangement which was shown to the Commission, an increase of 10 spaces over what was approved in 2004. He said that the Planning Commission has the right to waive the parking requirement due to the seasonal nature of the outdoor dining and the availability of parking in other areas.

Mr. de Mooy stated that the Fish Whistle property has no other parking availability on the footprint of the restaurant and the easement in front of the Fish Whistle owned by the Town cannot be expanded. Mr. de Mooy explained that the Marina property was purchased with Maryland Infrastructure Bonds and terms of the bond forbid easements for private parking.  He said that planned renovations to the Marina will create additional parking on site which will be available to patrons of the Fish Whistle as has been the case through the years.  Therefore, the need for additional parking will be mitigated by the development of the Marina site.  Mr. de Mooy added that the need for additional parking would be reduced by an increase in available boat slips at the Marina is increasing from 54 to 70.  The Planning Commission is also permitted to waive required parking space if they find that adequate public parking exists within 350’ of the proposed building or provided that parking in the Historic Area does not bring irreparable harm to the Historic Area. Additional parking is available on Cannon Street, Water Street and the Wilmer Park.

Mr. Ruehrmund showed the Commission where the new deck locations were proposed for the Fish Whistle Restaurant. He said that one deck can seat an additional 48 people, the existing deck is expanded to accommodate an additional 25 and the corner deck will have seating for 58.

Mr. Ruehrmund stated that a development agreement is in the works between the Town and the owners of the Fish Whistle Restaurant as portions of the new decks are extending past the existing property lines to the south and east of the property. Mr. Ruehrmund stated that the Marina work is going to mean that the grades around the Fish Whistle are going to be raised; a retaining wall will be constructed around 3 sides of the building to accommodate the new grade.

Mr. de Mooy stated that technically, the Fish Whistle has not met the threshold for site plan review, so this review is to waive the parking requirements.

Mr. Bowering stated that a concern he had was the idea that all of the additional seating was not going to create a parking problem. Mr. de Mooy stated that was why he was showing that additional parking will be created as part of the Marina renovations and also rectifying the nuisance flooding which sometimes precludes any parking on site.  Mr. de Mooy stated that there is no restaurant in Downtown Chestertown that meets their parking requirements on site.

Mr. Blitzer stated that the additional deck seating would not necessarily be an increased demand on parking. He said that currently diners stay inside because there is no deck seating.  He said that during the warmer months the inside dining room would likely not be full as people would be outside enjoying the nicer weather.  He said that he thought this expansion was in complete keeping with the Comprehensive Plan, noting that this was the sole dining establishment on the waterfront in Chestertown and thought that the revitalization would be encouraged.

Mr. Craig stated that a business that is seasonal in nature describes most businesses in Chestertown, meaning that everything in Town is busy which is taxing for parking all over. Mr. Craig stated that he loved the idea of the expansion and said that it will be good for the community but the requirements for parking were doubling and the parking was already less than what was necessary.

Mr. Fordi asked how many times the lot is full with the existing parking lot. Mr. Carroll stated that the lot is full to capacity only a handful of times through the year, noting that 40% of the customers are pedestrians who park or live in Town and walk to the restaurant.

Mr. Carroll stated that in the summer when the deck is full, many people go elsewhere to eat rather than dining indoors. He said that when the restaurant is full to capacity it is due to a large event where parking was limited in Town anyway.

Mr. Fordi stated that the vision for this area is a focal point for the waterfront and that there will be times when parking is at capacity but it is the nature of living in this area. He said the net benefit would be worth it in the end as it will be a draw for people coming to Chestertown.  Ms. Richman stated that by raising the grade there will actually be more parking available since the flooding will not occur in the parking area.

Mr. Craig asked how many additional parking spaces will be created with the changes that will be made to the parking lot. Mr. Blitzer stated that an additional 10 spaces will be made available in the parking lot from what was approved in 2004 within the easement area and Fish Whistle property.  There will be additional parking created on site at the Marina when the plans come in for the Marina and the Interpretive Center.  Mr. Blitzer stated that the trails and the boat slips will also provide additional access to the restaurant.

Mr. Bowering stated that the parking is a crucial component to the impact on the area and he had a problem approving the plan when he did not know where people would actually park other than other areas in Town. Mr. de Mooy stated that the property, including the easement (balance of 42 spaces), was part of an overall redevelopment of the entire site by the Town and although the work that the Fish Whistle was performing did not require site plan review the parking waiver was necessary.

Mr. Craig stated that the Fish Whistle was building outside of their property line and until the Commission saw an agreement he did not feel comfortable with this plan. Mr. de Mooy stated that the parking waiver was part of the agreement that the Mayor and Council unanimously approved but the agreement cannot be executed until the parking waiver was been approved by the Planning Commission.

Mr. Fordi stated that as Commission members they knew of alternate parking locations available in Town but the good part was that the Town offered great opportunities for walking, biking and boating. He said that this was the kind of traffic you wanted to see in Town.  Mr. de Mooy stated that people are already parking elsewhere during times when the area is flooded.

Mr. Grotsky asked if there was an idea of how much parking would be available at the proposed interpretive center. Mr. de Mooy stated that he did not know the exact number of spaces but there would be parking available.

Mr. Fordi stated that one of the things that is in control of the Fish Whistle is where their staff parks and would it be possible for them to park offsite. Mr. Carroll stated that he had 2 senior citizens work for him that park close to the building but his other employees park near the bulkhead, along Cannon Street, or by the back wall along Mr. Creager’s property.

Mr. de Mooy estimated that there would be 19 additional spaces required if the deck was counted as interior space. There were 53 spaces available in front of the building and other spaces available internal to the Marina property and parking on Cannon Street, Water Street and the Wilmer Park.

Mr. Grotsky stated that Mr. Carroll may want to think about installing a bike rack on site to encourage people riding to the restaurant.

Mr. Fordi moved to waive the requirements for parking based on the availability of nearby parking and the seasonal nature of the increased business generated by the Fish Whistle’s planned expansion, was seconded by Ms. Ellis and passed with 4 in favor, Mr. Bowering and Mr. Craig opposed.

The last item on the agenda was discussion of the Best Building Awards. Ms. Mulligan stated that she prepared a sheet indicating all properties that have been finished in 2016 for the Commission to review.  Mr. Grotsky stated that decisions on awards will be made in January 2017.

There being no further business, Mr. Craig moved to adjourn the meeting at 9:00 p.m., was seconded by Mr. Bowering and carried unanimously.

Submitted by:                                                 Approved by:

Jennifer Mulligan                                            Jeffrey Grotsky

Stenographer                                                   Chair

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