MAYOR AND COUNCIL
JANUARY 4, 2021
Mayor Cerino called the meeting to order at 7:40 p.m. In attendance were Councilmembers David Foster, Thomas Herz, Ellsworth Tolliver and Meghan Efland, W. S. Ingersoll (Town Manager), Kees de Mooy (Zoning Administrator), 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 December 21, 2020. Mr. Herz moved to approve the minutes of the December 21, 2020 Mayor and Council Meeting, was seconded by Ms. Efland and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino stated that operating funds on hand was $2,060,017.88.
Mayor Cerino asked for a motion to approve the payment of the bills. Mr. Foster moved to approve payment of the bills as submitted, was seconded by Ms. Efland and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino introduced Jeff Grotsky, Chair of the Planning Commission. Mr. Grotsky stated that a draft of the Annual Report was sent to the Council for their review. He said that the Commission is charged with administering zoning and subdivisions in the Town as well as formulating the Comprehensive Plan, which is available to view on the website.
Mr. Grotsky stated that this was a seven (7) member commission with 5-year terms and meetings are held on the third Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. He said that new commercial projects the Council would have seen are the Dunkin Donuts building on Washington Avenue and the new YMCA being constructed on Scheeler Road.
Mr. Grotsky stated that applicants come before the Commission with a concept review of their project, after meeting with Mr. de Mooy, where questions concerning the site, parking, lighting, landscape plans and stormwater are discussed. This is followed by preliminary site plan meetings and final site plan approvals. Once final approvals are given, a project can be submitted to the Town for construction.
Mr. Grotsky stated that the public is welcomed to attend any meeting and ask questions.
Mr. Grotsky stated that the annual report encompasses all development stages of each project before them for the calendar year.. He said that if there was no business for a meeting, they typically would not meet that month. He briefly reviewed the annual report. Mr. Grotsky stated that every five (5) years there is a mandated review of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. He said that the Comprehensive Plan was coming up for review again.
Mayor Cerino stated that there is a great deal of work and attention to detail that went into each building in Chestertown. He said that the Planning Commission is a volunteer commission that saved the Town thousands of dollars each year in costs. He urged everyone to read the Comprehensive Plan as it gave a true vision of what was planned for Chestertown.
Rev. Tolliver asked if there were ever complaints from residents or neighbors regarding a project. Mr. Grotsky stated that anyone is welcomed to attend a meeting and speak, but he could not remember anyone coming in to lodge complaints. Mayor Cerino stated that when there were there (3) separate annexation plans were on the table around 2005, there were people who did come in to complain, but typically only representatives of the application show up to the meetings.
Mayor Cerino stated that it was both needed and proper to have separation between a developer in the application process and the Mayor and Council. Mr. de Mooy stated that this Planning Commission functions as it should as there are some Mayor and Council bodies in Maryland that reverse Planning Commission decisions, which should not be the case.
Mayor Cerino introduced Jeff Coomer, Chairman of the Historic District Commission. Mr. Coomer stated that the Historic District has defined boundaries within Chestertown and the seven (7) member Commission served 3-year terms. They meet on the first Wednesday of each month at 5:00 p.m.
Mr. Coomer stated that the HDC reviews applications within the district for new construction, building modifications to exterior facades, and signage. He said that there were also times when a concept review is discussed, usually by a developer on a larger project.
Mr. Coomer stated that ordinary maintenance does not require Historic Commission review, and more than half of the applications are approved through a consent calendar that predetermines that all requirements have been met. He said that the applications on a consent calendar are considered in a grouping at the beginning of a meeting.
Mr. Coomer stated that other applications are reviewed individually and are either approved, denied or approved with conditions. He said that he only recalls one application being denied during his tenure on the Commission.
Mr. Coomer stated that four (4) new single-family residences were approved in the Historic District this year.
Rev. Tolliver asked Mr. Coomer if the Commission has ever requested changes to property that may cause their property insurance to rise. Mr. Coomer stated that there have been some applications where the homeowner seemed shocked to know that they were residing in a Historic District and had to meet certain exterior conditions, but he said that it surprised him when that happened because any real estate agent or buyer should know beforehand that the property was in the Historic District. He said that he thought any cost to an insurance policy would be negligible and that was not an issue that comes up. He said that sometimes there are requests to change materials which are not approved, but a compromise is usually reached where all parties are satisfied when the permit is issued.
Mr. de Mooy stated that a Historic District preserves property values at a much better rate than properties in a Town without one. He said the value of the home will be recouped should they decide to sell. Mr. Coomer stated that a main driver of tourism is the Historic District as the fact that people seem to love seeing a well-preserved town. He added that the Commission does an excellent job of saving and preserving the heritage of Chestertown.
Rev. Tolliver asked if there was any expansion planned for the Historic District. Mr. Coomer stated that as far as he knows there was no future expansion planned. Mayor Cerino stated that there was an expansion in 2000-2001 but he did not think that there were any other eligible areas to expand in town. Mr. Coomer stated that not all the houses in the District are historic and the guidelines allow for leniency on those properties that were not within the period of significance.
Rev. Tolliver asked if there were any properties outside of the District that would come to the Commission for approvals. Mr. Coomer stated that there may be historic properties outside of the District, but they do not fall under the Historic District Commission’s purview.
Ms. Efland asked what the top misconceptions related to the Commission were. Mr. Coomer stated that, in his opinion, the paint colors used on a building and interior renovations were the most common things that people thought were controlled by the Commission but were not.
Mr. Herz asked for clarification on windows and door replacement. Mr. Coomer stated if the building was historic with original windows, then they would expect that the windows would be restored rather than replaced. However, if a building had replacement windows and a homeowner wanted to upgrade those windows, they are typically permitted to do so. He said that the Commission tries to retain original materials whenever possible. He said that sometimes original materials do not need to be replaced, just repaired.
Mr. Herz stated that his house is over a hundred and fifty years old with replacement windows and he has never had a bad interaction with any Commission or the Town as long as he has lived in Town.
Mayor Cerino introduced Amy Crouch, Chair of the Recreation Commission. Ms. Crouch stated that the Recreation Commission was in place to plan for recreational areas and activities for children of all ages. She said that they typically meet the third Thursday of each month at 6:00 p.m. at Procolinos. They have a seven (7) member commission.
Ms. Crouch stated that one event they were able to have this year was a ribbon-cutting at the Carpenter Park in Washington Park. A grant application was submitted for a playground in Wilmer Park. Most recently, they have been working to improve the Ajax Park and finding out what people and neighbors to the park would like to see in the way of improvements. Ms. Crouch stated that they have organized festivals and outdoor movies before Covid, but due to restrictions in place everything in 2020 the events planned had to be cancelled.
Rev. Tolliver asked how Ajax Park was moving along. Ms. Crouch stated that the full-sized basketball court that was originally proposed to the Council had been scaled back to a three-fourths sized court. A full-court relied heavily on permission for easements from the State of Maryland Department of Transportation. There was no funding in place for improvements currently. Neighboring property owners have asked to schedule a meeting to discuss the improvements, but nothing has been set to date.
Mr. de Mooy stated that they should hear in the Spring whether the Maryland Legislature approved funding grant for the Wilmer Park playground.
Mayor Cerino stated that outdoor games and activities had to be cancelled due to Covid and the Commission seemed to be focusing on larger areas of play to make overall improvements. Mayor Cerino stated that neighbors were pushing back on the changes to the Ajax Park and there are reservations over the scale of the project. He said that this is not the original location of Ajax Park area as that property had been sold. He said that improvements were made in the past because the area was in disrepair.
Mayor Cerino stated that the original Ajax Park was full-court but not close to regulation size. Now the effort was to try and find middle-ground on size to have a nice court as well as activities for smaller children, and happy neighbors. He said that with Covid and the holidays it has been difficult to schedule a meeting with the neighbors.
Mr. Herz stated that Ms. Crouch and Mr. Bogden have been doing a wonderful job of communicating their ideas to the public and thanked them for the work. Mayor Cerino stated that meetings have become difficult due to Covid, but everyone was trying their best to work within public meeting requirements.
Mr. de Mooy stated that the easement from the Maryland Department of Transportation is an important step in the future of this project.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that he dropped his report for this evening due to the number of time consuming items on the agenda. He did ask the Council to make a decision on the date of their next meeting since Monday, January 18th was the Martin Luther King Holiday. The Council agreed to hold their next meeting on Tuesday, January 19th..
Mayor Cerino stated that the town’s challenge was to add diversity to the committees and commissions. However, because all spots are volunteer positions it can be difficult to find those willing to volunteer. He said that there was no barrier to admission of a commission or committee based on race, color or creed. He said that there were vacancies on commissions, and he would welcome help recruiting volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering can express their willingness by writing to Town Hall.
Rev. Tolliver stated that he had a communication regarding Open Meetings litigation and asked if there was movement on an answer. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the Town Attorney was finalizing his answer to the complaint. Mayor Cerino stated that the meeting in question did not live stream, nor were they aware that it was not live-streaming until after the meeting. He said that another apparent issue was that the press was not invited to the Zoom meeting,.
Mayor Cerino presented the State of the Town report for 2020. The major issues in Town were Covid 19and it’s impacts; Social Justice, the cancellation of most Town annual events and festivals due to Covid19, and oil spill remediation concerns. New construction was also a highlight of the address for 2020 for both residential and commercial buildings. The Mayor pointed out that the Town asked Kent County for the seventh straight year for a tax differential or rebate with no action success. Therefore, Town taxpayers continue to be taxed twice by the County for many items such as public safety, roads maintenance, and planning costs. The Town passed an ordinance requiring registration of non-owner occupied short term rentals in an effort to have the County collect the unpaid Hotel Taxes not being paid by dozens of short term rentals in Chestertown. The Mayor reported that the Town received a $445,000.00 grant from USDA for the renovations at the marina which fully paid off a line of credit and reimbursed the general fund for $187,000.00 in costs incurred by the Town during renovations. Phase IV of the Rail-Trail was for a State Bikeways grant that will begin construction in the Spring of 2021.
After reading the speech, Mayor Cerino presented a slide-show presentation that was representative of life during in Chestertown over the year past years and photographs of new construction started and completed during the same period.
Mayor Cerino announced winners of the Christmas Decorating Contest as follows:
1st Ward: $50.00 Frank and Barbara Creegan, 213 Waldo Drive
$25.00 Alva Dorsey, 123 Philosophers Terrace, # 14 (trailer)
2nd Ward: $50.00 Chestertown Garden Club
$25.00 Joan and Darell Craig, 305 S. Queen St.
3rd Ward: $50.00 Anthony Reed, 322 Devon Drive
$25.00 John Anderson, Jr., 102 Devon Drive
4th Ward: $50.00 Amy Crouch, 115 Elm Street
$25.00 William & Sheila Lepter, 201 Glen Street
Commercial businesses will be announced at the next meeting.
Mayor Cerino asked for ward reports.
Mr. Foster discussed the work taking place to alert the public when and where vaccines will be offered and how to apply to get vaccinated. He said that he was happy to meet with anyone who was interested in volunteering to help reach out and contact people.
Mr. Herz stated that the winners of the Christmas Contest did a spectacular job of decorating, adding that the Garden Club did beautiful work to decorate this year and Fountain Park looked beautiful. He said that the Craig’s house on South Queen handed out over 100 painted oysters to neighbors, which was a wonderful tradition that the neighbors looked forward to each year.
Rev. Tolliver stated that his Ward had been quiet over the holidays. He said that he would like to volunteer on the effort to spread the word about the Covid vaccine and that he hoped 2021 was a better year and that many activities would soon be resumed.
Ms. Efland stated that Chester River OBGYN on Washington Avenue closed. She said that Dr. Webb was moving to Centreville but the was a loss of services for women in Chestertown and Kent County will not go unnoticed.
Ms. Efland stated that there was an expose in the Washington Post about the purchase of many nursing homes (one of which was in Chestertown) by a large company. The nursing home in Chestertown has been cited for not having hot water for months. The State of Maryland was looking into fines for this issue.
There being no further business and no other questions or comments from the audience, Mr. Herz moved to adjourn the meeting at 9:35 p.m., was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan Chris Cerino
Town Clerk Mayor