Cerino, Landgraf Give Waterfront Updates

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The winded boat ramp and new floating dock at the Chestertown marina

At a meeting of the Greater Chestertown Initiative, Nov. 29, Mayor Chris Cerino and Washington College President Kurt Landgraf gave updates of plans for Chestertown’s waterfront.

Cerino’s talk was largely a recapitulation of a report he gave the town council at its Nov. 20 meeting. The mayor emphasized the reasons for the town’s purchase of the marina several years ago, including the need to preserve access to the river for residents and the town’s ability to get grant funds unavailable to a private owner. The potential of a fully-updated marina to enhance the town’s economic development has been a key reason for the work, the said.

Cerino showed photos of the work already done, primarily the bulkheads, walkways and boat ramp on the downriver side

The new floating dock awaits installation

of the marina. The boat ramp has been widened to about twice its original size, while the bulkheads and walkways have been raised roughly two feet above their previous level. A floating dock – just delivered on Monday – and six finger piers will be installed over the next few months.

 

Also, an old boat shed on the property has been demolished and the foundation for a new marina store and interpretive center has been laid. The interpretive center was originally planned to be a two-story building, but it has been downsized to one story in view of higher-than-expected costs.  The town has grant funds totaling roughly half the $1 million the project is expected to cost. Cerino said the town would be happy to accept private donations to complete the building. The existing marina store will be demolished and an open plaza created in its place.

The next phase involves refurbishing the river-side bulkheads and replacing two of the docks currently in place with one longer dock. The basin will also be dredged to a depth of six feet to allow larger boats to use the slips closer to shore. The Cannon Street dock, where schooner Sultana usually berths, will remain in place but be extended farther into the river.

Foundation of the new marina store and interpretive center

The final phase of the work will involve filling in the parking lot, shared with the Fish Whistle restaurant, and raising the level about two feet to inhibit flooding which has become a chronic problem on the site. This will also require replacing water and sewer connections to the restaurant. Cerino said the owners of the restaurant are on-board with the project, and the town expects to work closely with them in scheduling the work to minimize disruption of the restaurant’s business.

Landgraf began by observing that the town and college have had a relationship since 1782, when the college was founded. He said the two are at their best when they work together – and their waterfront projects are one of the best examples.

Washington College is a member of the Centennial Conference, he said, and that sets a high bar for its athletic facilities. The old boathouse was an embarrassment to the college and the town, but its replacement will be “world class,” he said, with a LEED platinum environmental rating. The Chester River rowing club will continue to be welcome to use the college’s facilities, he said.

Still on the horizon is the new environmental studies center, to be build on college-owned land between the boathouse and the armory. Landgraf said ground-breaking for the new building will take place after the boathouse is completed.

Also to be determined is the long-range fate of the armory, which Landgraf characterized as “an eyesore” but also “an

Washington College President Kurt Landgra

underutilized resource.” He said the college is looking at a number of ideas for putting it to use, including the possibilities of a B&B or hotel. A barrier to any major changes in the building is its status as a national historic site.

Landgraf then turned to several other subjects the community has asked him about. The most common question, he said, was why the college bought the Blue Heron restaurant, which is slated to become the “Eastern Shore food lab.” In fact, the college did not buy the building; the buyer was Larry Culp, who sits on the board of visitors and governors, and who will be leasing the property to the college for the food lab. And because the owner is a private individual, the property will remain on the tax rolls.  He gave a brief description of the kind of work Prof. William Schindler is doing to explore unconventional food sources, such as insects.

Other subjects Landgraf touched on were the college’s efforts to improve education in the county, including a reinvigoration of Kent Forward and the expansion of the college’s dual enrollment program, in which high school students take college courses for credit. He said better schools will make the community more attractive to prospective faculty members at the college. He praised Dr. Karen Couch, the county superintendent of education, for her openness to working with the college to improve the quality of the school system.

He also mentioned the college’s $10,000 donation to the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company, which he noted responded to a serious fire on college property a couple of years ago. “I want the college to be part of the community,” he said, including a stronger commitment to the United Fund of Kent County. Landgraf said he had increased the number of contributors from the college from four to 75, with contributions totaling $20,000. And he praised the efforts of the Save Our Hospital group.

The floor was then open to questions. One of the first, directed to Cerino, was about how the closure of the Blue Heron and the rumored closure of other restaurants would affect the town’s dependence on tourist business. Cerino said the town government has limited resources as far as recruiting new businesses, which he finds “a bit frustrating.” He said the Main Street Chestertown program, which has taken on economic revitalization efforts, may be able to have more impact.

Gallery owner Carla Massoni said one difficulty is the condition of many downtown properties, which need renovation but must stay within historic district guidelines. She said the Main Street program was trying to find ways to address the problem.

Landgraf said the college dining halls are open to the general public, and offer “really good” food. He said he eats there every day.

Another audience member asked whether the marina parking lot would be repaved with pervious material. Cerino said the town wanted to do so, but the cost was prohibitive. He said there would be pervious areas to manage stormwater runoff as well as several green areas.

Linda Dutton asked whether the marina work could be a vehicle to employ low-income local residents. Cerino said the work was subject to a bidding process, and that the contractors would make the ultimate decisions on employment. Dutton said the town might include such a requirement in its bid specs.

Landgraf was asked why the college doesn’t have a presence in the downtown shopping district, where college-related clothing or souvenirs are generally absent. He said the college has a contract with Barnes & Noble, which runs its bookstore. He said he thought it was a good idea to have a college presence in town, and that discussions with the bookstore could explore ways to achieve that goal.

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