CHESTERTOWN MAYOR AND COUNCIL MEETING
NOVEMBER 7, 2022
Mayor Foster called the meeting to order at 7:16 p.m. In attendance were Councilmembers Tim O’Brien, Tom Herz, Jose Medrano and Meghan Efland, Town Manager W. S. Ingersoll and guests. The Mayor asked if there were any additions or corrections to the Mayor and Council meeting of October 17, 2022. Tom Herz motioned to approve the minutes, was seconded by Tim O’Brien and passed unanimously.
Mayor David Foster reported that the cash on hand was $2,508,327.43 and asked for a motion to pay the bills. Meghan Efland so moved, was seconded by Jose Medrano and approved unanimously.
Representatives from the YMCA appeared before the Council with a short presentation about their latest fundraising drive for local programming that was designed to provide health benefits to the local community. Erica Osterhaut and Ryan Smith, staff members and program directors at the YMCA. They stressed that the YMCA is a new organization in our community and not just a new building, they were providing a new way of engaging with the community that invested in our young people and seniors. They said the Wellness Department at the Y has a chronic disease prevention programming, Rock Steady boxing (a class that helps those who are affected by Parkinson’s improve their quality of life, and enhanced fitness for senior citizens helping them with their balance and their muscle mass (which has proven scientifically to improve their quality of life). In June of 2022, they launched their LIVESTRONG program for cancer survivors of all ages which is a program that reintroduces them to fitness while also providing a community of people that have a shared life experience.
Erica Osterhaut noted that they were in the middle of a large campaign with an ambitious goal of $25,000 to carry out at least three free chronic disease programs. These programs are subsidized by donors and the YMCA organization as a whole.
Ryan Smith discussed their pool, which gave swim lessons to over 200 local kids. He said that he was really proud of what they’ve accomplished so far but felt he had only scratched the surface. Mr. Smith said there was a staggering number of children in the community who do not know how to swim and are uncomfortable around the water. His goal was to teach every kid in Kent County how to swim. The philosophy at the YMCA, according to Mr. Smith, was that they don’t say “no” to anyone. They have programs set in place for membership in all programs that can make them accessible to everyone. Families who might not be able to afford can get a subsidized or reduced monthly rate. He said that over 25% of the Y members are on such programs and have access to our facility because of that Erica Osterhaut said that they are approaching 6000 people served. The final note was that the YMCA was aware that transportation was something that is absolutely on their radar as it was connected to serving the public and meeting their needs.
David Foster introduced Elizabeth Watson who spoke about the Strategic Plan Workshop preparation. Ms. Watson reported that she sent out a community questionnaire to 82 organizations in the community and received about a 50% response. She said that that response percentage is considered very good, and the answers were thorough. These responses would be the synthesized into a preliminary list of topics will be discussed by the full Council on Saturday and Sunday November 12-3 from 130 to five in the town hall. really important to help us start off. So that is the idea. Mr. Ingersoll noted that the weekend Strategic Plan workshops would be live-streamed, and the public could attend the meetings at the town hall to observe, but not participate.
Mr. Ingersoll presented permit requests for MainStreet and Tea Party events. Nina Fleegle went over the details including the Hometown Holiday, the parade date, and the Dickens Weekend. Thomas Hayman described the Tea Party permit for 2023.
Councilman Herz moved to approve the Hometown Holiday permit for MainStreet, the Dickens of a Christmas MainStreet permit and the Chestertown Tea Party Festival permit. Meghan Efland pointed out that she was on the Tea Party Committee and asked that Mr. Herz separate the approvals. Mr. Herz then moved to approve the two MainStreet permits for the holidays, was seconded by Ms. Efland and approved unanimously.
Tom Herz then moved to approve the Chestertown Tea Party parade and Chestertown Tea Party festival permits as presented by Thomas Hayman, was seconded by Tim O’Brien and passed unanimously.
Mr. Ingersoll brought up two more late requests from agencies that were filing grant applications. The first was a letter of support for the Tea Party festival grant application. He read the letter and said that it would need the entire Council’s signatures (with the exception of Meghan Efland as previously discussed).
Tom Herz moved that the Town sign a letter of support for the Tea Party festival grant application, was seconded by Tim O’Brien and passed with Ms. Efland abstaining.
The second grant application needing support was for the Sultana Education Foundation (SEF) requesting the State with a request for their staff housing connected with their large wetlands preserve. The Preserve will engage Kent County students with an additional outdoor educational facility and enhance SES ability to attract visitors from outside the County since 1997. Councilman Herz moved that the Council approve the Sultana Education Foundation’s letter of support for the Lawrence wetlands preserve staff housing grant application with the Maryland State Department of Education Funding process. He was seconded by Ms. Efland and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that he had forwarded the Council a letter from the Samaritan Group earlier in the day. He said they were not asking for anything specific but were telling the Council that things have changed slightly since last year.
Councilman O’Brien asked if there had been a formal library funding request at the last meeting that should be brought up again this meeting?
Mr. Ingersoll said there was a $5,000 request for funding during the budget year. It was introduced as a formal request at the previous meeting. Councilman Herz made the motion to authorize a grant of $5,000 to the Kent County Public Library, was seconded by Councilman O’Brien and passed unanimously.
Mr. Ingersoll sent out two prototypes of how the agenda might be changed. He mentioned that there were three late requests that that Councilman O’Brien wanted the Council to consider.
Mr. O’Brien stated that the first one arose with a conversation he had with Karen Trout, the Kent County Superintendent of Schools. She said that there was elementary school playground equipment at the former Worton elementary school that is still up to code, but it is essentially surplus. She said that currently no one has asked for it yet and confirmed that all the Town would have to do was initiate an ask to begin a conversation. The second part of the discussion that he had with her was to ask whether the commercial kitchen that is still inside of the Worton Elementary could be used for public purposes, or whether it was mothballed. Mr. O’Brien said he thought there was a dire need for a public commercial kitchen in Kent County.
Mr. O’Brien said the third request concerned the recent removal of a very large oak tree on Philosopher’s’ Terrace. The tree was on private property and was not subject to any town approval process for its removal. He said that Chestertown once had an ordinance that would address the removal of large trees that was rescinded soon after passage. He wanted to ask if there was any objection to his sending a request to our current tree committee to see if they have any opinion on reinstating or updating some sort of process to make sure that large or champion trees on private property in town are not removed unless recommended by an independent arborist as dying, dead or dangerous.
David Foster asked whether the town residents would pay for the arborist or the town? Mr. O’Brien said
it would be a volunteer effort using the tree committee’s expertise and contacts. The Mayor asked Mr. Ingersoll if he know of the former ordinance regarding trees on private property. He said the ordinance was passed in July of 2009 and repealed in two months. Councilman O’Brien said that his intent was not to prohibit the removal of trees but to study requests. He thought it would be a good idea for the tree committee to reconsider a recommendation to the Council.
Mr. O’Brien asked if there were any objections. There were none.
Councilman O’Brien brought up the subject of auxiliary dwelling units in Chestertown. He wanted to ask the Chestertown Planning Commission to look again into auxiliary dwelling units (Accessory Dwelling Units-ADU’s) in the Town Zoning Ordinance. He said that he understood that towns like Annapolis, and other ones that he’d looked into were modifying their existing zoning and zoning plans for this specific type of dwelling. They’re able to allow more opportunities for rental or housing options without doing comprehensive zoning and rezoning. He said that currently the Town’s ADU zoning only allows for family unit families members to use an ADU. The property has to be owner occupied and that prevents anybody who has a small unit behind their house to rent it to anybody for extra income or to allow more use. Additionally, the ADU only allows one bedroom per location. He hoped that the Planning Commission could look at this as recommendation because the Town has a need for more flexible housing. He said that in a lot of towns, they have changed the definition of ADU has always traditionally been for family members only. Now it is widely used as a rental definition as well.
Mr. O’Brien said that more rental properties to come on to the to the market allow more people to have the options to age in place. There are also people that also can use rental income for a single bedroom, something behind their home.
Councilman O’Brien said that this is an avenue that allows people to do this without comprehensive rezoning. He said the only thing that might raise some people’s real objections was where it might allow a unit where the current law does not allow any dwelling units as close, such as some existing carriage houses, or barns. How we define it, long-term short-term rental or not. Those are other question for which I would like to recommendations David Foster asked whether Mr. O’Brien envisioned that the ADU’s would be eligible for Airbnb or other short term rental programs. Tim O’Brien said that that was a different conversation and also became the question of whether you allow for short term rental versus long term rental. He said he was currently only asking for long term rental because that is actually what he was trying to achieve: more long-term rental availability.
Mayor Foster asked Mr. Ingersoll how reformed ADU’s would work within areas where there are covenants or deed restriction? Mr. Ingersoll said that he had talked to Mr. O’Brien about this and why the ADU section of the ordinance was added in 2012. He said we still have not resolved the issue or short term rentals in town with more than 29 unregistered at last count. If private covenants restrict the property to one unit or other similar rules, it could be a real problem for the property owner that they don’t see coming.
Mayor Foster said he appreciated Mr. O’Brien bringing the subject up and it made sense to explore it. Mr. O’Brien said if there was no objection, he would like to have the request made to the Planning Commission. Mr. Ingersoll said the request should be made by the Council in the form of a recommendation that the Planning Commission study the issue. The Council authorized the request to be made.
Mr. Herz reported that a housing and homeless meeting would be held on November 6, 2022 at 7 p.m. in the upstairs conference room. All groups that address low income and affordable housing in the county would be in attendance.
Mr. Herz reported that the Council of Governments would be discussing the room rental tax with regard to Airbnb and similar short term private rental programs at the November meeting. Mr. O’Brien said that he had done some research on the subject and found a good deal of information was being provided by Airbnb. He said that they use a service at Airbnb that will automatically send the room rental taxes directly to the taxing entity.
Ms. Efland reported that there is a special committee that was reviewing future plans for Kent County Middle School (renovate or replace). There were a series of listening sessions that were not well and the attended and the Kent County Public Schools website (https://www.kent.k12.md.us/KCMSProject.aspx) explains the available options that have been considered to date. Stormwater issues could be a problem for original Chestertown site. Ms. Efland was asking for that the Council formally support replacing the middle school at its current location. Ms. Efland reported that she lives very close to the school and observes children there on weekends playing basketball, tennis and using the track. Additionally, recreation league sports use the fields for practices and games. Ms. Efland stated that she believed that keeping the school at its current location is important for the Town, the middle school students and the school system.
Mr. Foster reported that he was surprised to see that the cost of renovation versus replacement was similar. He said he thought most of the objections with the school remaining in Chestertown were site specific and acreage based.
Mr. Herz noted that the middle school project would be the largest financial commitment that Kent County has ever made to a single project and they will be floating a $30 million bond that county taxpayers will be paying for the next 30 years. He felt that the school should remain in Chestertown, as Chestertown is the county seat with the largest population and where the most concentrated economic growth is likely to be. Mr. Herz suggested meeting with Dr. Couch and the project consultant regarding the challenges to the current location and why they are considering alternative locations.
Mr. O’Brien agreed that Dr. Couch needed to be aware that Chestertown is ready and willing to work with them on site issues to keep the school at the present location.
Ms. Efland noted that the school board could change with the election, which could impact decisions regarding the project.
Ms. Efland made a motion to thoroughly partner with the Board of Education in support of rebuilding the Kent County Middle School at the present location or in Chestertown. The motion was seconded by Tim O’Brien and passed unanimously.
Mr. Foster discussed the agreement between Washington College and the Town with regard to the College purchase of the Armory, which occurred before he was a member of the council. He noted that the plans to restore the original building may change due to concerns with asbestos and mold and would like the College to make a presentation to the Town so that any procedural errors can be corrected and any plan moving forward is transparent. Mr. O’Brien requested clarity regarding the procedural errors that the Mayor to which the Mayor was referring. The Mayor discussed the fact that the demolition permit submitted to the Historic District Commission was acted on by the Commission without observing the 25 day submission policy of the Historic Commission. He said that another complaint was that the address of the Armory, 506 South Cross Street was the only indication that the Armory itself was on the agenda.
The Mayor said that he had not attended the Historic District Commission meeting as he believed there should be separation between the Town and the Historic District Commission (and the Planning Commission) as they have autonomous zoning roles. He said that he was not an expert on architecture or what is historically relevant but had invited the College to make a presentation to the Council about the issues threatening the preservation of the original façade. Mr. O’Brien asked it the 45 review period requirements had to be waived or had been waive. He wondered whether the 45-day review period requirement would in effect nullify both the Town and the Historic District votes on the demolition. The Mayor said that the Town vote had no real effect on the demolition vote of the Historic District Commission. There had been no demolition permit granted by the HDC and they would not issue one until the concept drawings were submitted. Councilman Herz noted that demolitions were a two-step process.
Mr. O’Brien said that he would like a clarification from the Town Attorney on the issues. The Mayor responded that Mr. Drummond had been contacted and wanted to be involved. Mr. O’Brien asked if there were caveats or stipulations included in the original sale agreements that put conditions on the future uses of the property. The Mayor stated that it was his understanding that the Maryland Board of Public Works had been or would be contacted by attorneys representing the College concerning the restrictions.
Barbara Jorgensen introduced herself as a lawyer who recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request related to the armory. Ms. Jorgensen reported that documents have been omitted and she will be filing a subsequent request asking for those particular documents. Ms. Jorgensen noted that the Historical Society were not aware of the history of the Armory. She also noted that Mr. Ingersoll and the mayor had discussed the possibility that the college had changed the plans for the armory after they got possession of the building. Ms. Jorgensen stated that the Historical Society did not get this information and neither did the council. She discussed the restrictive covenant that was not included when the town transferred the property to the college and noted that this covenant is very specific and noted that importance of having an attorney review it and all other documents association with the armory (the college president alluded to several reports) in a timely fashion. Now that the Historic District Commission has rescinded its approval the entire process will begin again.
Ms. Jorgensen went on to state that she thought there was more information that had not been produced. She said that if the College had been working on this project for 5 years why was there only one 8-page report. She felt the Historic District Commission would benefit from more information, submitted ahead of time.
Mr. Dick Grieves noted that he has worked on the Armory project for the last six years and it is beyond repair or adaptive reuse. Hurricane Isabel, which struck on Sept. 19, 2003 was the beginning of the end for the building. His group had spent hundreds of thousand of dollars in an effort to reuse the original building. He said the death of a building s a big deal but trying to save the building will result in it sitting there for 50 more years unused. The 2003 flood and years of higher tides have doomed the building with mold throughout.
Ms. Jorgensen stated the Town does not have enough factual information at this point to conclude that the armory cannot be saved. Ms. Jorgensen questioned Mr. Grieves assumptions without producing more conclusive reports supporting their conclusions than the 8 page one she had seen. Mr. O’Brien asked to step back in on what was originally his question about clarification of the procedural errors and what was going to be happening going forward. It was not on the agenda for a public debate. The Mayor said he didn’t anticipate returning to a vote by the Council as the decision on demotion itself actully rests with the HDC.
Mr. O’Brien stated that ultimately the Historic Commission and the Ttown have the authority to demolish any historic structure within the town limits. He also noted the importance of public transparency with regard to the documents associated with this decision.
Ms. Jorgensen said that the only thing she had to add to the discussion was to clarify for public transparency by getting the documents out there.
Mr. Foster reported that he, Councilman O’Brien and Mike McDowell followed up with the State Highway Administration concerning the 2015 Safety Study and had a productive meeting that included Delegate Jay Jacobs. He said that SHA has assigned a specific person to work with us on this and we look forward to working with that person. The new District Engineer said that they will start with what he referred to as the “low hanging fruit,” the things that do not require major legislative changes or are not high-ticket items. Speed signs and feedback signs were in that category.
Ms. Efland requested that in their next meeting with the SHA, that the crosswalk request for Haacke at Morgnec Road be one of the important issues discussed.
Mr. O’Brien said that he was gratified that the SHA meeting had been held and thanked the Mayor for arranging it. He said that the District Engineer for District 2 said that he was committed to addressing the issues in the 2015 Task report that he had received. He had it displayed electronically up on the screen and addressed its various aspects. He also thanked the Council for putting in the time to put down their thoughts for the upcoming strategic planning sessions.
Mr. Herz reported that the Wilmer Park playground is officially completed.
Mr. Herz reported there is a meeting regarding homelessness on November 10, 2022, at Town Hall and he encouraged anyone interested to attend. He said those meetings were going incredibly well. He also stated that on the November 16 there would be another related housing meeting with different groups working on preventing evictions and available financial assistance services. Finally, he encouraged everyone to vote the next day.
The Mayor also encouraged everyone to vote. He commented on the value of the repurposed playground available, especially if it could be used at Carpenter Park.
Councilman Medrano gave the Third Ward report. He said that Ms. Efland’s presentation regarding the middle school staying in Chestertown was strongly supported in his ward. He said that it is vitally important that the public schools in town remain in Chestertown
Meghan Efland reported that she has been asked to be on the Washington College strategic planning steering committee as a community representative. One of their items of importance was more housing options affordable housing options for students and staff. Another issue is that the rail trail runs by the college and how the college users could access it with the steep hills that are present along the entire campus. Ms. Efland reported that there has been a decline in the dual enrollment program which was a way for local students to be more involved with the College. She said that in the break-out groups the idea of attracting students to the downtown and commercial areas was discussed and popular with all groups.
Ms. Efland reported that she has heard from her constituents that the police are issuing citations to long term residents for violations such as parking in the wrong direction. She also noted that there are more speeding tickets being issued in response to residents’ complaints about speeding in their communities. Ms. Efland said she had received concerns regarding the need for traffic calming on Greenwood Avenue and other places in College Heights. Mr. Ingersoll noted that this has been discussed as part of the strategic plan and some options were not always universally accepted. There was discussion regarding speed cameras near the middle school and in College Heights.
Joyce Moody from Washington Park addressed the Council on behalf of the residents asking for their streets to be repaved. She mentioned that she has lived in Washington Park for 30 years and during that time there has not been a complete paving of any of the streets. She reported that there are potholes, the streetlights are insufficient and there are several areas that flood. She also reported that there are many people who walk on both sides of Flatland Road and sidewalks would be beneficial. She added her support of the middle school remaining in Chestertown to attract families to the area.
Meghan Efland commented (and noted that KCPS Board member Trish McGee was present) that she is hoping that the KCPS Board would make a decision regarding the middle school before January. She said that Chestertown is the County seat, and our citizens deserve to have the decision on this subject made with only our children in mind. We have a community here that is absent when the school is in the middle of the country and not safely walkable for most students, especially after sports that end after dark.
Mr. Herz motioned to adjourn the meeting at 9;20 p.m., was seconded by Mr. Medrano and passed unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
W.S. Ingersoll David Foster
Town Manager Mayor