FEBRUARY 16, 2022
Morgan Ellis, Chair called the meeting to order at 7:32 p.m. In attendance were Commission members Owen Bailey, Tony D’Elia, Jeff Grotsky and John Hutchison, Kees de Mooy (Zoning Administrator) and Jennifer Mulligan (Town Clerk).
Ms. Ellis stated that the first item on the agenda was to elect a chairperson for 2022. Ms. D’Elia nominated Morgan Ellis to be chairperson. Mr. D’Elia nominated Mr. Hutchison as Vice-Chair. Ms. Ellis nominated Owen Bailey as Secretary.
Mr. Hutchison moved to approve the officers as nominated was seconded by Mr. D’Elia and carried unanimously.
Ms. Ellis asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the December 15, 2021 meeting of the Planning Commission. Mr. D’Elia moved to approve the minutes of the meeting of December 15, 2021, was seconded by Mr. Bailey and carried unanimously.
Ms. Ellis stated that the Annual Report for 2021 was submitted for approval. Mr. Hutchison moved to approve the 2021 Annual Report, was seconded by Mr. D’Elia and carried unanimously.
The last item on the agenda was a request for a recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a mental health clinic at 954 High Street. Shyam Bhayani and Jon Hill were present for the application. Mr. de Mooy stated that this was the Lauretum property and showed an aerial view of the property. He said that this was originally a single family residence and then a bed and breakfast before turning into office space used by Benchworks. He said that the applicants are proposing use of the building for a mental health facility. This use would not increase occupancy and existing parking was sufficient. He said that he believed the proposed use was also compatible with the area.
Mr. de Mooy stated that this application would be forwarded to the Board of Appeals and the applicants were hoping that the Planning Commission would agree that this would not negatively impact the Comprehensive Plan or the neighborhood.
Mr. Hill stated that he was a board member for Community Behavioral Health. He said that an advertising agency currently uses the property and there were seventeen (17) employees. Due to Covid most work has become telework. He said that the building is adequate for the services that they will be providing and has an excess of parking which would be used for employees. He said that the property is camouflaged from the road and surrounded on the western side by a conservation easement and was zoned R-4 on other sides.
Mr. Bhayani stated that they have been operating for seven years in Chestertown. They worked with the Health Department and Mid-Shore Behavioral Health out of the Whitsitt Center on Scheeler Road. He said that due to the pandemic they had to stop operations out of Whitsitt and were working on South Cross Street right now but were outgrowing their space, mainly due to an increased need for services related to Covid. He said that they wanted to remain in Town. This was an out-patient service offering traditional talk therapy and medication management. He said that they serve the entire community (all ages).
Mr. de Mooy asked if all specifications for state requirements have been met. Mr. Hill stated that ADA accessibility was necessary, and the plan was to renovate the garage for ADA accessibility and perhaps add a lift or ramp to the main building. He said that Fire Marshal approval would have to be granted but the building is already equipped with a fire suppression system.
Mr. de Mooy showed a parking plan, which was already in place and there was enough for seventeen (17) parking spaces and two (2) vans with wheelchair lifts. There would be five (5) parking spaces for employees. Mr. Hill stated that this was a secluded area, and little would be seen from the public view.
Mr. Hill stated that modifications would be interior only and would not impact the historic significance of the building. He said that they have preserved two (2) other historic buildings for their practice, one in Snow Hill.
Mr. Hutchison asked about the process of mental health treatment. Mr. Bhayani stated that some people come on their own volition and there were a group of psychiatrists and therapists who treat, depending on needs such as medication. She said that their model is self-sufficiency, with talk therapy and medication, creating a new and better normal for the patient. If something more was required, the patient is outsourced to inpatient services elsewhere. Mr. Bhayani stated that there is also overflow accepted from the Health Department and Court systems.
Mr. Bhayani stated that the typical hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Mr. Bhayani stated that there were five (5) staff members on site and the Chestertown location has one hundred (100) total patients, up to thirty (30) patients per day on a normal schedule. She said that right now there were approximately fifteen (15) patients per day and group therapy can have up to twenty (20) patients in one session. She said that there were some patients who come in for injections. She said that group therapy people tend to carpool or are dropped off.
Mr. D’Elia asked about ingress and egress on site. Mr. Hill stated that the roadway was macadam and asphalt compacted so there is a paved way in and out.
Mr. D’Elia asked the size of the building. Mr. Hill stated that the structure was 4,000 sq.ft. and some of that space would be used for offices and storage.
Mr. Grotsky asked if food service was onsite. Mr. Bhayani stated that there was a commercial kitchen, and they did teach basic cooking skills to patients for therapy. Mr. Hill stated that kitchens in these facilities are technically “training kitchen” and part of the program. He said that they were not serving meals, only training in food preparation as part of the mental health program.
Mr. Bhayani stated that the Department of Mental Health was in support of the program and their only concern is the ADA accessibility which they were planning to accommodate before opening.
Mr. Bhayani stated that they were looking to purchase the property pending approval of the conditional use.
Mr. Bhayani stated that he thought this was a nice setting for the patients and did not have an “institutional” feeling to it. Mr. Bailey stated that this was a beautiful building with plenty of overflow parking.
The unanimous consensus of the Planning Commission was that this application would not affect the health or safety of the existing neighborhood, did not negatively affect the area and was in keeping with the Comprehensive Plan.
There being no further business, Mr. Bailey moved to adjourn the meeting at 8:19 p.m., was seconded by Mr. Hutchison and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan Morgan Ellis
Town Clerk Chair