MAYOR AND COUNCIL
JANUARY 17, 2017
Mayor Cerino called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m. In attendance were Council members Liz Gross, Linda C. Kuiper, Samuel T. Shoge and Mauritz Stetson, W. S. Ingersoll, Town Manager, Jennifer Mulligan, Town Clerk and guests.
Mayor Cerino asked if there were any additions or corrections to the minutes of the Mayor and Council meeting of January 3, 2017. Mr. Stetson moved to approve the Mayor and Council minutes of January 3, 2017 as submitted, was seconded by Ms. Gross and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino stated that total operating cash on hand for unrestricted use is $1,703,832.53 and there were assigned funds for waterfront initiatives in the amount of $180,480.00 included in those funds. Mayor Cerino stated that there was a separate fund for the Broad Reach sculpture donations in the amount of $83,656.69 of which $46,366.35 has been expended, leaving a balance of $37,290.34.
Mayor Cerino asked for a motion to pay bills. Ms. Gross moved to approve payment of the bills as submitted, was seconded by Mr. Stetson and carried unanimously.
Chief Baker presented the police report for December. He explained to the Council how he compiled his statistics for each month.
Chief Baker cautioned residents to be wary of phone scams and if there were any questions to call the police department.
Chief Baker stated that there was an incident in Chester Harbor in which the Chestertown Police Department backed up the Queen Anne Sheriff’s Office. The incident ultimately involved a gunfight with between a deputy and citizen and he was happy to say that the deputy has returned home from the hospital.
Chief Baker stated that on December 31st he had a call that drugs were coming in through the Morgan Creek, but it turned out that someone must have stolen a box of medication and dumped it into the river.
Chief Baker presented the 2016 Annual Report of the Chestertown Police Department.
Chief Baker stated that one of the highlights of 2016 was moving into the new police station at 601 High Street. He said that a wish list item was for a new heating and air conditioning system at some time in the near future and also to secure the property with a fence and gate to protect vehicles and for operational needs or when vehicles are confiscated and need to be searched.
Chief Baker stated that out of his strength of 14 officers, he has 12 working; 1 has been deployed and 1 is on extended sick leave. He said that officer who is on active duty oversees is hoping to return in May 2017.
Chief Baker stated that Maryland has changed regulations on how tasers can be used so he was looking into the purchase of pepper guns in the interim.
Chief Baker stated that violent crime was up 3% nationally. He said that Chestertown was showing lower figures and said that the officers were proactively working on keeping it that way. Chief Baker added that it was becoming difficult to retain officers due to competing agencies offering better salaries and benefits. He said that he was hoping to remain competitive.
Ms. Amy Moredock, Kent County Director of Planning and Zoning was present to go over the County’s position in the Morgnec Road Solar Case. Ms. Moredock reviewed the intervention filed with the Public Service Commission on the utility scale solar system that is in conflict with County zoning.
Ms. Moredock stated that the Mills Branch case has reached a conclusion but has not exhausted appeals. A second case on Morgnec Road has been filed for an area that is specifically not zoned for a utility scale solar energy system. The Mills Branch case proposed 350+ acres in the agricultural zoning district and the Morgnec Road case proposed 225 acres in a split zone Rural Residential/Community, Residential/Intensive Village, and Critical Area Zoned (Resource Conservation).
Ms. Moredock stated that Kent County made solar energy provisions and adopted them for both small scale and utility scale systems. She said when cases were proposed that were inconsistent with the former existing zoning appropriate text amendments were made, including the State initiatives, to allow them in certain areas. The Mills Branch case (begun as wind energy) was not consistent as utility scale solar is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan for the site chosen.
Ms. Moredock stated that when the wind project shifted gears and turned into a solar project, the County filed to intervene in a desire to uphold the County Land Use Ordinance. This was in spite of the applicant’s claim of preemption of local zoning. In filing to intervene, the County became party to the case and was copied on all documentation, included in all scheduling, and was able to file briefs and appeals. If the County was not a party to the case, the County would have weighed in but would not have a “seat at the table” and their best interests would not have received the best level of consideration.
Ms. Moredock stated that a citizens’ group was involved with the County supporting the County’s position. The group was named the Kent Conservation Preservation Alliance. She said that the County and the Alliance submitted sufficient testimony resulting in a positive decision in the Mills Branch case.
Ms. Moredock stated that prior to the ruling on the Mills Branch case the Morgnec Road case was filed. There have been meetings with the Public Service Commission staff (PPRP) and consultants working with the applicant telling them that the land in question was very specifically identified in the Comprehensive Plan and studied by the Town of Chestertown through the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy Charrette. It is also cited in the Town’s Municipal Growth Element. To date, the Morgnec Road applicant has not contacted the Town of Chestertown, even though the Town’s Comprehensive Plan cites this land as a priority annexation area. A second portion of the land included in the proposal was the area slated for the Chestertown Bypass.
Ms. Moredock stated that the Morgnec Road Solar proposal was inconsistent with Kent County’s Comprehensive Plan and the applicant was strongly encouraged to consider land appropriately zoned for this development. Mayor Cerino asked why land inconsistent with zoning was being targeted. Ms. Moredock stated that she thought the Eastern Shore was being targeted especially because agricultural zoning is open land that is easily converted to solar.
Mayor Cerino stated that this project is on County land not presently annexed by the Town and said that he was not sure that it was appropriate for the Town to take the lead opposing the plan. Ms. Moredock stated that the County’s zoning reflects the Town’s Comprehensive Plan goals in this area. She said that she thought it was important for the Public Service Commission to hear the Town’s perspective regarding this gateway into Town and long range annexation planning.
Ms. Moredock stated that there are specific areas in Kent County zoned for utility scale solar energy and the counties on the Eastern Shore are going to fall prey until the issue of preemption is addressed in the Legislature. She said that she was working with our Delegation, who has been supportive of local zoning, adding that Kent County leads the State per capita in the number of solar projects already in place. Ms. Moredock stated that there were 2 cases that are consistent with the zoning in the Industrial and Employment Center Districts and the Rt. 301 Corridor. Those projects are smaller scale projects (45-50 acres total) on 2 adjacent properties and applied for by 2 separate companies.
Mayor Cerino stated that he felt the Town could join the County in encouraging applicants to go where zoning is appropriated for this type of growth and urge the Public Service Commission to honor Kent County and Chestertown’s long range plans.
A member of the audience said that it was known that farmers are being offered $1,000.00 per acre from the solar companies where they would only get $100.00 per acre from another buyer encouraging those landowners to sell. Another member of the audience stated that it was almost as if the legislature put forth renewable energy standards and then turned loose corporate entities without any guidelines or agenda. Now the projects are landing on the Eastern Shore with power transmission lines carrying the power away because there would be too much for the local electricity needs.
Ms. Elizabeth Watson stated that solar was being installed with no screening or sensitivity to the landscape. She said that the Public Service Commission, by its own rules, is supposed to be observing concerns of historic sites and aesthetics with due consideration. However, what was happening was that the solar companies gave gone to the Public Service Commission where there are no guidelines under the law because it had yet to be tested. Now, that the law is being tested it is important to take a stand against this type of development. She suggested asking the Public Service Commission to postpone the Morgnec Road Solar case until all appeals are exhausted in the Mills Branch Solar case.
Mr. Frank Rhodes stated that as a business owner across the street from the Morgnec Road application he opposed this project, adding that he approved of solar but not at a gateway to Chestertown. He said that there is plenty of land in the County designated for solar. Mr. Rhodes stated that the companies who install the solar panels can sell their rights, adding that the panels look nice when first installed but if nobody cares for them afterward weeds grow and fencing deteriorates.
Mitch Mowell, Esquire stated that the solar companies are speculative, mainly buying tax credits by installing the solar plant and then selling it. Mr. Mowell stated that the private solar companies are building where they choose and then selling the electric to companies out of the service area. Mr. Mowell stated that the goal was to get the legislature to understand what was happening and push for legislation to disallow this type of development, whether disallowing preemption or stating that solar energy must comply with local land use regulations. Mr. Mowell stated that the County was going to speak for the County’s Zoning Ordinance and could offer testimony from members of the Town, but he thought the Town should be a party to the case to have its own voice.
Ms. Gross moved for the Mayor and Council of Chestertown to file the necessary documentation to intervene in Case #9438 before the Public Service Commission and that the letter request that any hearings be delayed until Case #9411 is resolved to the fullest extent of the appeals process, was seconded by Ms. Kuiper and carried unanimously.
Ms. Kay Macintosh was present to give an update on the Main Street Program for Chestertown. She said that the Main Street program had four groups of focus being; organization, diversity, design, and promotion. There were now 28 Main Street programs in Maryland and the Eastern Shore Main Streets were Chestertown, Centreville, Denton, Salisbury and Berlin.
Chestertown was designated a Main Street in 2008 under the umbrella of the Downtown Chestertown Association. An independent 501(C-3) was formed called “Main Street Historic Chestertown” through volunteers. After some time, key volunteers were lost and the program went dormant.
Ms. MacIntosh stated that since her hire she attended the quarterly meetings of the State Main Street group trying to get up to speed. She also attended the National Conference of Main Street. After hearing and seeing the successes of the communities involved, she said she was convinced that Main Street can do great things for Chestertown. Ms. MacIntosh stated that she spoke with members of the Arts and Entertainment Advisory Board and they accepted taking on some advisory roles and Mr. Paul Heckles agreed to be the Main Street president. She introduced Mr. Heckles and asked for his comments.
Mr. Heckles stated that 3 kick-off sessions were held in November and December coming up with possible projects and deciding what Chestertown’s Main Street should be while collaborating with the DCA and A&E District, Curb Appeal, etc. He said that he and Ms. MacIntosh were working on an organizational structure, which was given to the Council. There were 35 volunteers broken into the 4 committees mentioned earlier. He said that now that groups are organized, the committees will begin to meet in February. Mr. Heckles stated that the National Conference this year is in Pittsburgh (in May) and a few members were planning to attend.
Mr. Shoge asked what the budget numbers were for Main Street. Mr. Heckles stated that at this time there is no budget. Ms. MacIntosh stated that the general format is that the local government provides 30%, grants account for 30% and the remaining is from fundraising and private donations. Ms. MacIntosh stated that Main Street has to work on a budget and will return with targeted objectives. Ms. Gross suggested looking at other Main Streets similar in size to Chestertown.
Mr. Shoge stated that the Council had discussed PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) funds in the budget and this may be a good way to test the waters using Main Street as a PILOT program.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that Mr. Drew McMullen of the Sultana Educational Foundation was present to discuss a matter with the Council. Mr. McMullen stated that he was asked to attend the meeting by the Board of Directors of Sultana to open conversation concerning the Chestertown Marina and how they can move forward with Downrigging this coming year. He said that the infrastructure at the Marina has been deteriorating over the last decade. Internally, Sultana has meetings to discuss whether the deck and dock conditions are safe for their visitors on Downrigging Weekend. Mr. McMullen stated that this year, with the current conditions, Sultana did not feel comfortable moving forward with plans as the Marina walkways had deteriorated to such a degree that they would like a professional engineer to make the determination as to whether the facility can accommodate the amount of people Downrigging tends to draw.
Mr. McMullen stated that Mr. Ingersoll has been working on ideas to remedy the situation by making use of the contractor working on the Marina over the winter. He said that he thought that both the Town and Sultana had a vested interest in making sure the Marina was safe and to begin discussion on how they can make sure that is the case. Mr. McMullen stated that Mr. Ingersoll suggested having the engineer working at the Marina basin this winter look at the entire Marina and make recommendations for required temporary repairs.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that the crowds drawn by the event bring so many people to the dock at one time and thought another solution may be to speak to Mr. Sappington (who just built the Byford Bridge) to go under the 3 docks and the boardwalk to access and fix them to ensure safety. Mr. McMullen stated that April 2017 was when Sultana would begin to lock in financial commitments for Downrigging Weekend. He asked if that was a reasonable timeframe to have someone look at the work. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the work should be finished by April 2017.
Mayor Cerino that the Chester Grass committee has requested the Mayor and Council to judge and participate in the parade. Chester Gras was scheduled for Saturday, February 25th beginning at 1:00 p.m.
Ms. Kuiper stated that Sumner Hall has a list of events coming up which the public can view at www.sumnerhall.org. Sumner Hall was showing an exhibition as part of the Smithsonian’s travelling museum titled “The Way We Worked”.
Ms. Kuiper stated that 2 new businesses were opening on Cross Street; a children’s store and a houseware store.
Ms. Kuiper stated that the Rail-Trail was coming to Ward 2. Mr. Shoge stated that he had been past the site, seen the progress and was looking forward to paving. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the Bikeways Grant opens in March and is usually awarded in June. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the issue of the trail crossing at Rt. 291 was reviewed some time ago by a previous District Engineer but the process would have to start again. Mr. Shoge stated that the Young Professionals have expressed interest in adopting this leg of the Trail once it was built.
Mr. Shoge stated that he met with the Chestertown Recreation Commission and Washington Park Committee to go over their plans for the park area. He said that he was impressed by the work of the Recreation Commission. Mr. Shoge stated that they would approach Mr. de Mooy to discuss funding sources for the project.
Mr. Stetson stated that he represented the Town on Monday, January 9th at the Kent County Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Breakfast. He said that the entire delegation was in attendance and they reviewed what was coming up at the next session.
Mr. Stetson stated that he attended a meeting at Washington College where the Committee set up by the Legislature had a meeting to discuss healthcare on the Eastern Shore. He said it was encouraging to hear that they thought some inpatient beds would remain at the Hospital.
Mr. Stetson stated that the Dog Park was still being well used even in the cold weather.
There being no further business, Mr. Shoge moved to adjourn the meeting at 9:10 p.m., was seconded by Ms. Gross and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan Chris Cerino
Town Clerk Mayor