MARCH 18, 2020
Chairman Jeffrey Grotsky called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m. In attendance were Commission members Robert Busler, Darell Craig, Morgan Ellis and John Hutchison, 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 Planning Commission meeting of February 19, 2020. Ms. Ellis moved to approve the minutes as presented, was seconded by Mr. Busler and carried unanimously.
CONCEPT PLAN – DUNKIN DONUTS – WASHINGTON AVENUE (FORMER PLAZA TAPATIA
Mr. Kevin Shearon of DMS & Associates was present for the application. He said that this was a redevelopment project for the former Plaza Tapatia building at Kent Plaza, which is zoned C-1.
Mr. Shearon showed the existing conditions on-site. He said that there would be a new 2,550 sq.ft. building with a drive-thru lane on the Downey’s side of the building, along with an order menu, cashier window and pick-up window on the Rt. 213 side. Vehicles could que in from the backside of the Kent Plaza parking lot.
Mr. Shearon stated that the overall parking lot will be milled and overlaid. There will be 3 parking spaces removed on the northwest corner. New curb and stormwater management will be installed. There was no existing stormwater management on site.
Mr. Shearon stated that 26 parking spaces were required based on the square footage of the building. He said that they were proposing 24 parking spaces. Dunkin Donuts has a cross-agreement with Kent Plaza Shopping Center for overflow parking.
Mr. Shearon stated that the existing trees on site would be removed as part of the site cleanup. The lights and bulb fixtures would be new, noting that the pole lights will not be as high as the shopping center fixtures. The existing poles would likely be retrofit for the site.
Mr. Busler asked how many people come to Dunkin Donuts via drive-thru rather than walk-in. Mr. Shearon stated that he did not have that data, but the franchise owner could answer those questions at a future meeting. Mr. Busler stated that the design appeared as though the building was for drive-thru that just happened to have a door to allow walk-in customers. Mr. Shearon stated that the building was spacious enough for gatherings but most of the Dunkin Donuts stores built today seemed to be designed for drive-thru rather than walk in.
Ms. Ellis stated that she wanted to be mindful of the look and feel of Chestertown and said that this building did not appear to complement the historic nature of the Town. Mr. Grotsky agreed. Mr. Shearon stated that there was a certain corporate imaging that must be adhered to, but he said that there should also be flexibility in materials.
Mr. Hutchison asked if this building was taking the place of the existing Dunkin Donuts on High Street. Mr. Shearon stated that both buildings would remain open and that the same franchise owner owned this site.
Mr. Hutchison asked what was driving the drive-thru layout with the window facing Washington Avenue. Mr. Shearon stated it was positioned as such so that stacking did not flow into the existing shopping center’s parking lot.
Ms. Ellis asked if the building would be located on the same footprint of the existing building. Mr. Shearon stated that it would be a little further south to allow for the drive-thru lane, but it was close.
Mr. Busler asked if the building could be situated differently if parking requirements were less restrictive. Mr. Shearon stated that he did not know if the building could be located any differently on site. Mr. Busler stated that he thought the required parking seemed to be pushing the building to the northeast corner. Mr. Hutchison agreed, noting that his concern was the drive-thru window facing Washington Avenue. Mr. Shearon stated that most fast food restaurants have a drive-thru window on the prominent side of the road.
Ms. Ellis asked about parking waivers. Mr. de Mooy stated that as long as parking is available within 300’ of the site the requirements could be waived. Mr. Shearon stated that spaces in this part of the shopping center parking lot are not used as much as others. Mr. Busler stated that if the parking requirements were relaxed it might allow for another configuration more amenable to the view from the street.
Ms. Ellis stated that she said that she wouldn’t be as hung up about the cars parking in front of the building if the building was more appealing and that she was interested in seeing other options. Mr. Busler stated that he would like to see the building positioned better and then work on aesthetics.
Mr. Shearon stated that a goal was to minimize stacking on the property while keeping the flow moving. He said that the more the building is pushed toward Rt. 213 the more the stacked cars are pushed in that direction, and it becomes difficult for ingress and egress.
Mr. Hutchison stated that the entry to the site made sense, but he was uncertain as to whether the egress was too short of a distance.
Mr. Shearon stated that the busiest hours for this business were before the shopping center was open in the mornings and that the entrance from the site to the boulevard entrance already exists.
Mr. Hutchison asked about setback requirements. Mr. Shearon stated that setbacks were zero in C-1. Mr. Busler asked if there was no parking requirement on-site if the building would be placed differently to function better. Mr. Shearon stated that he would have positioned the building the same to accommodate the vehicular traffic, especially larger vehicles. He said that the more kinks there are to a parking lot, the trickier it is to negotiate. He said that this building was set back much further than the stacking for Taco Bell next door and some other drive-thru restaurants on Washington Avenue.
Mr. Busler suggested stretching the building to allow additional windows on the long side of the building to allow for a more welcoming corner. He said that there were no visual entries on the front façade. Mr. Shearon said that it would add too many people crossing in front of the drive thru. He said that as designed, the pedestrian side was on the flow of the pick-up traffic.
Mr. Busler stated that he thought it would be difficult to make a left-hand turn out of the site, especially in the morning. He thought people would go down behind the strip to enter and then come out next to the Walgreens to turn. He said that he didn’t care for the corner to become a pick-up window. He said that there were 11 parking spaces fronting Rt. 213 where people would have to cross the path of drive-thru traffic. Mr. Shearon stated that the entrance to the public was on the south side of the building. Mr. de Mooy stated that he thought it made more sense to leave the travel lane open for pedestrians to cross to get into the building if they are walking.
Mr. Hutchison stated that he thought the traffic pattern was going to be different to what existed. Mr. Busler asked if the site prohibited direct access from Rt. 213. Mr. Shearon stated that there is prohibited access to Rt. 213 and no way to gain access to the property on the north side.
Mr. Hutchison stated that Taco Bell enters and exits through the back. Mr. Shearon agreed, but in terms of cars stacking there was no difference. He said that the pick-up window at Taco Bell is on the south side of the building, but the stacking lane is still on Rt. 213.
Mr. de Mooy stated that landscaping could also soften the look of the site. He said that every design on the block was more in keeping with historic downtown and this should not be an exception. Mr. Shearon agreed, stating that he thought this was more about the look of materials than anything else.
CONCEPT PLAN – TALBOT ROAD, LLC. – 23 +/- ACRES ON TALBOT ROAD – MULTI-FAMILY HOUSING
Mr. Steve Meehan was present for the application. He said that he was seeking a text amendment for R-4 zoning.
Mr. Meehan stated that the requested text amendment was consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and amending the zoning and allowing the construction will help provide a need of the Town. He said that the request was consistent with R-4 zoning and would be infill on vacant land. He said that varied housing styles are a need in Chestertown and Kent County, and this would be a good infill project.
Mr. Meehan stated that Mr. Faik Tugberk of Architects Collaborative of Bethesda and Mr. Jay Silcox, project engineer, were present to go over the design concept.
Mr. Tugberk presented a PowerPoint showing that the main entrance to the development would be from Talbot Road, noting that the Morgnec connection presents challenges with wet areas and steep slopes.
Mr. Tugberk stated that the front area of this property was LI-1 and currently a “road to nowhere”. He said that they were staying out of the front part of the property (zoned LI-1) altogether and there was still a question as to what would be built on that lot. He said that since this was going to be a reasonably large housing community for Chestertown, he paid close attention to how the buildings were broken up and separated so they would not be perceived as one large mass.
Mr. Tugberk stated that the submittal was for 3-story townhouses situated close to Talbot Road with a small footprint (20’ x 30’). Each unit would have a garage to provide for 1 indoor parking space and their frontage would allow for 1 outdoor parking space. Some units would have slightly buried basements. Each townhouse will have 3 bedrooms and 2 baths.
Mr. Tugberk stated that he was trying to create a welcoming atmosphere using good materials and heavy landscaping. There would be a buffer allowing preservation of some of the grades to the extent possible. He said that the drive in and out allows for a 15’ tree-lined median.
Mr. Tugberk stated that the houses were in a grid pattern because they were part of the town and he wanted to express that in a modest way. He said that this also helps with parking with townhouses facing back-to-back and front facing at the road. There was a 30’ setback from the face of the curb to the house. He said that there would be enough guest parking spaces where he did not anticipate a parking problem. He said that he did not want to have too much parking leaving what could otherwise be open space covered with asphalt.
Mr. Tugberk stated that there was a 90’ to 100’ median in the development so that people would feel as though they were driving into a green area. This median will mostly be a bioretention area for stormwater management.
Mr. Tugberk stated that buildings were broken up in an unusual way because he did not want the development to be perceived in small chunks from the roadways and Rail Trail. He said that Talbot Road was the closest road and there would be a large greenspace.
Mr. Tugberk stated that he would like to connect with Washington College, so he created a small amphitheater space for general use in the community. He hoped that this would attract students to use it for music or art displays. He said that it made a nice centerpiece for the development. Mr. Tugberk stated that the buildings closest to the Rail Trail had a slope and he intended to build into the slope from 3½ story to 4 story.
Mr. Tugberk stated that Chestertown is mainly 2-and 3-story buildings with flat roof parapets, and he was trying to emulate but not copy them. Modern materials such as Hardi Plank, PVC trim and pre-cast stone and brick would be part of the design. He would use different colors so no two houses would look identical. Mr. Tugberk showed sketches he created depicting his vision for the development.
Mr. Tugberk stated that the apartment building was a 3½ to 4-story stick frame building with elevators. He said that he was also trying to modulate scale and proportion to break up the mass of the building.
Mr. Tugberk stated that from Talbot Road, Morgnec Road, or the Rail Trail the height of the buildings will not be noticeable. He said that he was aware that height was a concern but what can be seen does not appear to be out of scale. Mr. Busler asked if there was a basement area. Mr. Tugberk stated that there was a basement area which would have a service access for trash and move-outs.
Mr. Tugberk stated that he would heavily landscape the area between the development and the Rail Trail, and a complete trail loop was incorporated into the design around the development.
Mr. Busler asked how much space would be built upon and how the decision was made on what land to build. Mr. de Mooy stated that he ran calculations earlier in the day and there was more than enough area to accommodate the build-out. Mr. Tugberk stated that the buildings appear larger to take into account façade articulation.
Mr. Busler asked how they came up with the square footage from a marketing point of view. Mr. Meehan stated that there wasn’t a science to the numbers other than nothing of this nature has been built since 1995. Mr. Meehan stated that this project was shovel-ready for funding purposes, and it was time for a development like this in Chestertown. He said that there was not a whole lot of data for building of this nature until the apartments were reviewed in the newly annexed area on Rt. 213. Mr. Meehan stated that after speaking with KRM it was decided that there was room for only one apartment complex, and he based the numbers upon what KRM had proposed.
Mr. Tugberk stated that there had to be at least 100 units to allow for a proper management team. Mr. Meehan stated that he was looking to build 4 floors because he thought it would make sense, but he would go 5 if the Commission wanted it. Mr. Busler stated that he would be fine with moving to 5-story apartments if the footprint was pulled in and there was more diversity built into the taller buildings. He said that he did not think that height in this area would be noticeable.
Mr. Busler asked how parking was calculated. Mr. Tugberk stated that he planned for 1.5 to1.6 parking spaces for each apartment. Mr. Busler stated that it looked like a lot of asphalt, but they wanted to have plenty of parking because they didn’t want to price themselves out of the market. He said that it would be easier to plan to 1.2 or 1.3 parking spaces per apartment, but he did not think that was the right thing to do.
Ms. Ellis asked what portion of the parcel was development and how much greenspace would be left. She said that there was lot of greenspace in areas that would be preserved. Ms. Ellis stated that she did not think that the project was spread out too much when the entire parcel was included. Mr. Tugberk stated that to the south of the path along Morgnec Road would remain as greenspace even though a good portion of it is buildable.
Ms. Ellis stated that from the aerial view she did not think that the development seemed too spread out as Mr. Busler noted. Ms. Ellis stated that she thought it was park-like where the green spaces were shown.
Mr. de Mooy stated that the application was requesting 4-story buildings instead of 3-story, which was the existing cap on buildings in Chestertown. Mr. de Mooy stated that if the amendment was made to allow 4-story buildings it would potentially have implications for all R-4 Multiple-Family Residential zoned properties, as well as more densely zoned areas.
Mr. Hutchison asked if it was possible to create a new zoning district. Mr. de Mooy stated that was one approach but allowing modifications to the height requirements for areas that have sufficient setbacks could be considered. He said that a zoning change could not just apply to one project in Town. Mr. Busler stated that he thought density could be diminished by 20% by going up an additional floor.
Mr. Craig stated that he thought this project could present a major traffic issue along Morgnec Road and asked if a traffic study would be required. Mr. Meehan stated that he has been talking with the State Highway Administration about this project for 10 years and a traffic study would be performed. The people who perform the study will communicate to State Highway how entrances should be cut and other issues that had to be addressed for the project to be built. Mr. Meehan stated that once the height issue is resolved and they could proceed with the design, they would move on to the traffic study.
Ms. Ellis asked what setback examples could work for buildings of this height. Mr. de Mooy stated that there was an example in the Zoning Ordinance where each foot increase in height would require a corresponding increase in street setback in order to relieve the visual impact.
Mr. Craig asked about water and sewer hookups. Mr. Meehan stated that he would have a meeting with the Town Utilities Manager to look at capacities and pressure requirements in the area.
Mr. Hutchison asked for a more detailed explanation of the collaboration Mr. Meehan spoke about with Washington College. Mr. Meehan stated that he hasn’t met with the current president of the college, but the development would be 1,500 feet from Washington College and was full of faculty and staff that needed places to live. He said that he was working with a marketing group. Mr. Meehan stated that once the development was built, he was planning to live there.
Mr. Meehan stated that funding for this development was through a division of HUD but via GMA. He said that HUD provides lower interest rates which will help keep the rents low for this development. Mr. Meehan stated that Heron Point is pretty much full, and it is expensive to live there. He said that this will be a viable option for people who are ready to downsize.
Mr. Busler asked if Mr. Meehan thought about redoing the remaining undeveloped part of the Rail Trail as part of this development. Mr. Meehan stated that they did not own the rail property. Mr. Busler stated that they could do that portion as a contribution to the Town. Mr. Meehan stated that this development will provide a different pot of money to the Town and the fiscal benefit would be noticeable.
Mr. Meehan stated that he would like to move along in the development with 4-story buildings, noting that it was an appropriate height, and was seeking a positive recommendation to bring before the Mayor and Council. Mr. Meehan stated that he has already begun the loan process.
Mr. Craig asked if it was possible to build 4 story at 40’ high. Mr. Tugberk stated that it was possible at 45’ (10’6” per floor plus 3’ of parapet). Mr. Meehan stated that the project began with peaked roofs, but this design was totally different from what they began with over a year ago.
Mr. Busler asked what projects Mr. Tugberk was responsible for in Bethesda. Mr. Tugberk stated that he worked on the Palisades in Bethesda and in Virginia, Arlington Court House Plaza and Bennett Park Buildings, and Slate and Sedona. He does all the design work for Paradigm Development. Mr. Busler stated that it would be helpful to the Commission to have a list of comparable developments on which he has worked to get a feeling for the space and detail. Mr. Tugberk stated that he planned the buildings at Mears Point Marina on Kent Island.
Mr. Hutchison asked if beyond the height restriction, was a building of this size allowed in R-4 as he could not find anything of that scale. Mr. de Mooy stated that R-4 was Multiple Family Residential, and apartments were permitted use. Mr. Busler stated that he found it interesting that there was no limit on the size of the building.
Mr. de Mooy stated that he thought each member should state whether they would be for or against going to a 4-story development from the 3-story requirement that is permitted currently.
Mr. Hutchison stated that he did not necessarily have an issue with 4-story buildings, but he was struggling with the language. He said that under R-4 it reads that the “purpose of this district is to encourage variety and housing types and to provide for higher-residential densities appropriate for low-rise apartments in townhouse developments. These are located near major thoroughfares, shopping facilities and sites of employment. Population density and the height of buildings are low enough to be generally compatible with single-family residential development in the same general neighborhood.” Mr. de Mooy stated that there was no single-family residential development in this area, which makes this property unique. He said that if a proposed project adjoins a residential district, that will conform with the statement in this paragraph.
Mr. Busler stated that he did not have a problem with 4-story buildings for this project and thought it should be encouraged.
Ms. Ellis stated that she had issues with a blanket 4-story building approval and thought there should be some conditions applied, whether it be by ratio or congruency to neighborhood development in the text amendment. Mr. de Mooy stated that going up in height instead of out was more environmentally sustainable. Ms. Ellis stated that it was sustainable but there has to be a balance between a 4-story building and the overall context. She said that she was concerned about potential unintended consequences. Mr. Hutchison agreed.
Mr. Craig asked about other undeveloped R-4 areas in Chestertown adding that he thought this would open a “big can of worms”.
Ms. Ellis stated that the Commission should be very clear about what would be permitted in a text change. Mr. Craig stated that everyone had to remember that if this was done for one development it had to be done for every development unless there was a special condition on this site that would separate it from other potential R-4 owners of land.
Mr. Hutchison stated that there were different zones on this property. Mr. Meehan stated that there were 2 separate parcels, and he has not designed anything for the parcel zoned LI-1 fronting Talbot Boulevard.
Mr. Grotsky stated that the consensus was that the Commission would agree to 4-story with specific criteria and conditions.
Mr. de Mooy stated that he would work on language for the next meeting to introduce the text change amendment for a change in height in R-4 zoning.
There being no further business, Ms. Ellis moved to adjourn the meeting at 9:03 p.m., was seconded by Mr. Hutchison and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan Jeffrey Grotsky