April 11 Date Set for Chestertown Spy Forum with Mayor Chris Cerino & WC President Sheila Bair

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On April 11, the Chestertown Spy will be hosting a special community forum on the future of Chestertown and Washington College with College president Sheila Bair – joined by key senior staff – and Town of Chestertown mayor Chris Cerino.

This unprecedented exchange between the leaders of these historically intertwined institutions will take the form of a community conversation moderated by Spy executive editor Dave Wheelan.

Like many small towns and small colleges across the United States, Chestertown and Washington College have several and significant challenges facing them over the next few decades. From recovering from the great recession, to managing costs or assembling capital, both the Town and College are needing to find new and innovative solutions for these complex times for rural American life.

During the course of the evening, the conversation will address some of these issues as well as hear from Mayor Cerino and Washington College on their own thoughts about Chestertown’s collective future as well as possible points of intersection between Chestertown and Washington College in their strategic planning. Audience questions will also be part of the program.

The Forum will be open to the public and there will be no cost of admission.

A Spy Conversation with Mayor Chris Cerino and WC President Sheila Bair
“The Future of Chestertown and Washington College”
Decker Theatre
Washington College
5 to 7 PM
April 11, 2017

Why the River by Meredith Davies Hadaway

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During the holiday season, it’s easy to get caught up in the special images of Chestertown with festive lights glowing and a seamless supply of music, dance and theatre programs to enrich the yuletide season. And yet, more times than not, it is the Chester River, the glue that holds our community together, that stands far removed from the seasonal celebrations.

The Spy has attempted to remedy that sad omission in our Holiday message with a reading of “Why the River’ by poet Meredith Davies Hadaway. While Hadaway makes it clear that the title is more of a question than a statement, the answer is found in the poem itself, as it has been for those who love this river, with the words,

“because it traps the clouds so we can sail across/ both heaven and earth/ because it carries our tears, swells/ with our salt/ because it is a body/ because it bears our weight.”

This video is approximately one minute in length.

An award-winning poet and teacher of ecopoetry, Meredith Davies Hadaway is the author of three collections of poetry, At The Narrows, (2015) The River is a Reason (2011) and Fishing Secrets of the Dead (2005), all issued from Word Poetry. Hadaway’s work explores the birds, bugs, trees, marshes—and especially the waters—of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, evoking memory and mystery as they shape our braided lives. You can find her work at Bookplate in Chestertown and on Amazon here

Editorial: The Inn on the Chester – The Case for a WC Hotel & Conference Center

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Over the past few years, the Chestertown Spy has been less than discreet in advocating for a medium-sized, high-quality hotel for Chestertown. At the same time, it has also encouraged Washington College to assume a leadership role in its development.  Part of this is tied to the Spy’s desire for a bright, prosperous future for the town it loves, but also because it’s the right time and circumstances for WC to do so.

For decades, some very hard realities (capital, financing, market analysis, revenue projections) have given pause for such a role to dozens of WC leaders going as far back as the Douglass Cater administration in the 1980s. For reasons that were rational and irrational, the numbers never seemed to work enough to move forward with such a plan. Nonetheless, that interest and passion for such a facility remains as strong now as it did thirty five years ago.

Why? Because the rewards of building a Chestertown hotel are so strikingly transparent. The ability to accommodate medium-sized conferences, weddings, family reunions, returning alumni, prospective students and their parents, visiting dignitaries, as well as business people calling on local manufacturers, marketing firms, and other service industries, not only makes such a thing economically viable, these guests bring with them sizable discretionary dollars for shopping, dining, and other services.

The Inn at Swarthmore

The Inn at Swarthmore

In the world of higher education, even with relatively smaller schools, this has been the rationale in investing in the hospitality market. Over the last decade, countless schools have taken the plunge with hotel facilities ranging from twenty to eighty rooms.  Denison, Swarthmore, Kenyon, Gettysburg, Oberlin, Sewanee and W&L are just the latest examples of this trend.

While many of these schools may have better market capacity, larger endowments, and wealthier donor/investor constituencies to work with, the truth is that many other schools do not. That would include Flagler College, College of the Ozarks, Savannah College of Art and Design, or Wells College in upper state New York.

It may be true on the face of it that Chestertown and Washington College have significant handicaps to overcome in finding a solid business plan, the Spy’s albeit modest research into the business of town-gown hotels strongly suggests that these are minor roadblocks that can be effectively removed through creative financial and strategic partnerships.

Oberlin College is a good example.

In Oberlin’s case, a liberal arts college located in rural Ohio about an hour’s drive from Cleveland, the school ultimately built a hotel with seventy guest rooms that features a restaurant focused on local food and modest conference center. Planned to be “the cornerstone of Oberlin’s Green Arts District,”the facility’s 105,000 square feet also houses the college’s admissions and development staff. That sounds like a textbook definition of mixed use.The total cost was close to $36 million.

The expenses of a Chestertown equivalent would be significantly lower than that figure. Chestertown’s sweet spot for rooms would be more in the order of forty rooms. With that factored in, as well as a more similar comparison with the recently built Inn at Swarthmore, which cost closer to $25 million.

While $25 million sounds better than $35 million, it still turns out to be a huge sum for a small college in a small town. So where does Washington College get that kind of capital?

The Hotel at Oberlin

The Hotel at Oberlin

In the case of Oberlin, almost 60% of the construction costs were financed. Secondly, the school created a naming opportunity for a leadership donation (in this case $5 million from an Oberlin alum) and finally a consortium of donors/investors/community supporters to close the gap.

Another smart thing that Oberlin did was to place non-academic divisions of the school in the new building rather than build separate facilities. In this case, as noted above, Oberlin decided to relocate the College’s external relations staff there in order to maximize contact with prospective students, alumni, and donors under the same roof.

With waterfront access, a similar model could be used in Chestertown for WC alumni and admissions centers.  Or, equally appealing, would be to create a center that would include the hotel and one of its three centers of excellence like its renowned Center for Society and the Environment. Those strategies would undoubtedly add to the cost of the project but would reduce costs in other parts of the College’s capital budget.

Using a working number of $25 million, it would be mean that $15 million would be financed, a major donor, given a strong case for support, should be able to be found at the $3-5 million naming opportunity level, and the balance would come from other donors, investors, possible alumni timeshare programs, as well as the room guarantee contracts with the region’s larger institutions, included the College, the local hospital, manufacturers like Dixon Valve, and other, smaller service providers, schools, and retailers, proportionate to their annual need and circumstances.

Another factor that would make this goal achievable would be a strong “All In” response from the Town of Chestertown and Kent County. A project of this magnitude needs the careful escort of these governments through permitting and regulatory issues. And the project needs grassroots support from town citizens as well.

In the final analysis, as local developer John Wilson so clearly articulated in his interview with the Spy this fall, every project like this needs a champion. While Washington College must take the lead, a Chestertown hotel will need hundreds of champions to make this happen.

Let us hope the will is there.

Wax

 

 

Spy Recovery Urgent Message for Mid-Shore Heroin Addicts

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With the news that the Talbot County Narcotics Task Force seized the largest heroin bust in county history this week, it is very likely than many of the estimated 400 to 600 active heroin users on the Mid-Shore will be facing a major shortage of the drug’s supply.  For those addicted to the substance, the anticipation of the shortage will undoubtedly cause severe and life threatening withdrawal symptoms.

The Spy and the Mid-Shore Recovery Community want to alert those individuals that it may be an ideal time to seek treatment for their addiction rather than face a painful withdrawal process. We are recommending that they contact Chesapeake Treatment Center in Easton as a starting point.

The CTS is a clinic located just off our Route 50 dedicated to the recovery of individuals struggling with opioid addiction. You can start the process for treatment here

We would also remind those suffering from addiction to go here to see a summary of resources on the Mid-Shore.

Publisher Note: The Spy Launches Senior Nation for a New Generation on the Mid-Shore

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Simply stated, the Mid-Shore has one of the most extraordinarily large and diverse senior communities in the United States. In addition to its native population of people over 50 years old, the Eastern Shore has become one of the most sought out retirement communities for Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. residents, all of whom have been attracted to the local beauty of the Chesapeake and its extraordinarily diverse cultural opportunities.

Kent County News June 1978

Kent County News June 1978

To match this remarkably unique constituency, The Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy, the Mid-Shore’s non-profit, educational online newspapers, has launched a unique portal we call Senior Nation that is dedicated to this important Shore demographic. With the support and partnership from Heron Point at Chestertown, Londonderry on the Tred Avon, Shore Regional Health, Upper Shore Aging, Talbot County Senior Center, and a dozen other stakeholders focused on those Mid-Shore senior issues, we plan to expand our primary mission of being a major educational conduit for this unique demographic.

Since the Spy began in 2009, we have always been interested in senior life. While this may reflect our readership, since, over 70% of the Spy’s 250,000 readers that come to our online newspapers every year, are over 50 years old, I have been acutely aware of Mid-Shore aging issues since working with Upper Shore Aging in the late 1970s to run their Meals on Wheels program. From those early years, when I was twenty-two years old, in learning of the particular hardships that come with aging in rural communities, that interest has expanded, since reaching the age of sixty, to lifelong learning, cultural programming, caring for aging parents, and new models of aging-in-place practices.

I am also pleased to announce that William C. Rolle, Jr. (Bill) has agreed to serve as editor of Senior Nation. Before his retirement to the Mid-Shore in the early 1990s, Bill spent his career running a highly successful marketing firm in Washington, D.C. and now serves on the Talbot Hospice, Londonderry on the Tred Avon, the Easton Airport Boards, and serves on the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Executive Committee. Rolle graduated from Georgetown University with a master in communications from American University. He also has taught branding at Georgetown and courses on advertising and marketing at Washington College.

Through the use of original content articles, reader-provided columns, features on services, and a public forum and comment, The Spy intends to move beyond a bulletin board format to provide a comprehensive overview of being older on the Mid-Shore for a new generation of senior citizens.

Dave Wheelan
Executive Editor

Editorial: Dear Governor Hogan, On the Matter of the Chestertown Marina….

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Dear Governor Hogan,

Thank you for visiting Chestertown a few weeks ago for a first hand look at the Chestertown Marina project. There is nothing more reassuring than to have the governor spend “quality time” understanding a local need as great as our endangered public gateway to the Chester River.

Based on your conversation with town leaders, I’m sure you detected the unanimous feeling among Chestertonians that without state help to improve the marina’s existing infrastructure, the public’s downtown access to the Chester River will be forever lost.

While the use of the Chester has changed over time, the river has consistently been the lifeblood of Chestertown for over three centuries, even as the community transitioned from an agricultural port to a contemporary gateway for Chesapeake Bay water and land conservation efforts, education, and recreation. At the same time, it has become a powerful draw for out-of-state tourism, Washington College enrollment, and small businesses.

Without immediate marina improvement, this Town’s hopes for a post-recession economic resurgence will be greatly diminished. Without a viable public space at the very heart of the community, other potential plans for waterfront improvements — whether it be the renovation of the Armory, the placement of a new building for the Washington College Center for Environment & Society, or a riverside hotel and conference center — will fail to materialize. More tangibly, Kent County’s exceptional quality of life will be terminally compromised.

Every year, from large cities to small villages across Maryland, the citizens of Chestertown have supported waterfront capital improvements through their tax dollars to places like Cambridge, Havre de Grace, and Annapolis. Now, after several years of deferring to other worthy and productive projects, our community respectfully requests that it too receive assistance.

Rest assured, Chestertown’s plans for its waterfront do not end with the repair of the marina. The major stakeholders, including the Town, Washington College, and those in the private sector, see this as a critical part of a far more comprehensive vision to maximize the full economic and social impact that the Chester provides the Mid-Shore region. With the State of Maryland taking its proper leadership role to encourage public-private partnership, Chestertown’s capacity to remain vibrant for a fourth century looks very bright indeed.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration in this matter.

Your friend,

 

The Chestertown Spy

Wax

Editorial: Chestertown Vigilance

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While our community, like the rest of the country, has become preoccupied with a bizarre and unnerving presidential election season over the last six months, it is important to take note of the extraordinary political success that the citizens of Chestertown have had during the same timeframe.

Whether it be its victories in postponing a Chester Bridge repair project, an agreement with Shore Health to protect the town during oil remediation work, or most impressively, to convince the State Assembly and the University of Maryland Health System to freeze the downsizing of rural hospitals, including Chestertown’s, and instead launch a statewide study group to recommend long-term solutions to keep inpatient services at these medical centers, town and county folks have seen some extraordinary results on the political front.

In fact, it is a remarkable reminder of what citizen power can do given the will. But is also highlights of one of Chestertown’s most persistent qualities; its capacity for full-scale vigilance.

From colonial times until the present, Chestertown citizens have never hesitated to fight the system to protect their community. Starting with the famed Chestertown Tea Party in the 18th century, and highlighted by the region’s more recent collective efforts to fight off things like nuclear power plants, wind turbines, and industrial waste treatment centers, it is hard to say that the voice of the citizen is not being heard.

These acts of extreme vigilance can only be seen as a powerful, positive strategy. Against all odds, Chestertown and Kent County have consistently prevailed for over 300 years to keep their way of life and their landscape rural.

Undoubtedly, the threats to places like Kent County, whether it be development, environmental, or health care, will continue. And even current successes could easily become undone if indifference becomes the local prevailing mindset. So the need to maintain this remarkable vigilance is critical for this community’s long-term future.

There are few worries that Chestertown will maintain this kind of effort. History gives some reassurance of this, but it also true that communities, like people themselves, can master political skills and increasingly become more effective and organized with each new threat that pops up.

What must also be part of the long-term vigilance is to maintain civility despite the temptation to become mean-spirited. By in large, the region’s successes in getting their way were determined by collecting objective facts, relevant data, and a clear and well-reasoned point of view, not by attacking an individual’s motive, interjecting rumors of conspiracy, or yelling in anger at public meetings. While the town’s “opponents” may indeed have a different point of view, it serves no purpose to demonize and incite.

At a time when our current presidential campaign has become a new low for vulgarity and character assassination, it is all the more important for communities like Chestertown to rise to a higher level of discourse as we enter a new, very sad, era of political toxicity in our country.

Editorial: Zoning and Gun Control

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The New York Times recently reported the 100th birthday of zoning in our country. In 1916, New York City enacted the first zoning ordinance in the nation.

Like many other nationwide trends, the implementation of zoning ordinances spread slowly but surely across our country such that they are now a ubiquitous reality although there is the inevitable exception to the rule – Houston is a major city which still does not have a comprehensive zoning ordinance.

The idea of zoning was embraced, and ordinances were enacted, in many towns and counties on the Eastern Shore in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Today zoning ordinances are accepted – mostly – as effective tools in maintaining the “quality of life” that is unique to the Chesapeake Bay region.

But the essence and stark reality of zoning regulations are that they are profound restrictions on our fundamental property rights.

Those rights were established by centuries of the development of Anglo American “common law”. They were more fully legitimized and expanded by and through the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and later codified by zoning regulations and other legislation.

Indeed, the right to the ownership, use, enjoyment and protection of property in the United States is one of the most fundamental and cherished rights of our democratic society and republic. Yet as a nation, we now universally accept the impact of the restrictions land use laws impose on our use of that property.

In 1926 – in a seminal case known as Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. – the Supreme Court confirmed that zoning regulations are a reasonable exercise by state and local governments of their “police powers” to protect the collective best interests of our citizens and communities.

Perhaps there are others who agree that a reflection upon the 100 year history of zoning in our country can give rise to a thoughtful and enlightened perspective on the current debate about the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

On one extreme side of that debate are those who believe that there should be virtually no governmental restrictions on the right to own firearms. On the other equally polarized side are those who believe that firearms of all types should be all but totally prohibited.

Unfortunately, the groups who advocate those extreme positions are not infrequently the loudest, to the end that they drown out the voices of those who believe that there can be a reasonable and appropriate middle ground which both limits and protects our Second Amendment rights in fairness to all – in many ways like the restrictions imposed on our property rights by zoning regulations.

The majority of us cherish and embrace our right to own and use firearms for recreational and safety purposes. Therefore, it may be that those people who fear that the “slippery slope” of gun ownership regulations will mean the decimation of our Second Amendment rights are unreasonably paranoid.

The key point is that reasonable regulations of gun use and ownership can be implemented – in the same fashion as zoning regulations – to the end that the Second Amendment will retain its profound importance to the psychology, culture and realities of our collective safety and enjoyment.

There are many Americans – probably a significant majority actually – who are “in the middle” in their belief that the right to bear arms was intended to be interpreted reasonably as time has passed since that essential Bill of Rights protection was enacted more than 200 years ago during the Age of Enlightenment & Reason in America.

Many people reasonably and instinctively believe that our Founding Fathers could not have intended for the Second Amendment to be interpreted expansively to allow individual citizens to bear modern weapons of war for the simple reason that they could not have anticipated the development of such destructive arms – and the potential harm they could cause if in the wrong hands. Likewise, notwithstanding their wisdom and intentions for the establishment and protection of personal liberties and property rights, the Founding Fathers could not have anticipated the need for and benefit of zoning and laws.

While there are some inevitable imperfections in our zoning laws, the reasonable regulation of land use has given rise to our fantastic kaleidoscope, fabric and diversity of cities, towns and rural areas, and serve to protect the interests and rights of us all. There is no reason why reasonable regulations of firearms cannot do the same.

And one other thing . . . what is the big deal to and consternation of Second Amendment advocates about the imposition of “waiting periods” and gun registration and licensing requirements?

After all, our zoning ordinances include all sorts of waiting periods before the issuance of many types of building and use permits, zoning board approvals and the like, which in many cases are not issued until after weeks of public notice and hearings.

We all accept that permits – which are a type of registration and licensing – are needed for all sorts of land use, the most benign of which are for new homes . . . perhaps our most cherished property of all.

A dispassionate view of gun licensing and waiting period regulations is that they really should not be – and are not – a big deal when compared to the same type of restrictions on our property rights.

The point here is not subtle . . . if we can all accept restrictions on our property rights, should we not also be able to accept them on our right to bear firearms?

As we reflect upon the 100th birthday of zoning, perhaps there can be hope, and should be optimism, that we can find a common ground on a reasonable modern day interpretation of the Second Amendment . . . but like zoning regulations that restrict our most cherished property rights, it must be “somewhere in the middle” to reasonably protect the individual and collective interests of us all.

In other words, there are many of us who appreciate, have faith and believe that if the Constitution permits a century heritage of the reasonable regulation of our cherished property rights by zoning regulations, then it also permits reasonable regulation of our Second Amendment rights . . . no more and no less.

Editorial: Downtown Connectivity and Economic Development

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It use to be the case that the only people forced out of restaurants, coffee shops, law offices and other public buildings to do their business were folks needing to smoke a cigarette. In the case of downtown Chestertown, you might want to add those trying to find a cell or a wifi signal.

Rain or shine, these poor souls can be found at peak times on High Street waving their cellphone praying that a connection can be found. Some succeed and some fail, depending on their service provider, but this daily spectacle on High Street can be a kind of charming reminder of how remote Chestertown remains.

But it also communicates to anyone who relies on the internet to do their work that our community is not quite open for business.

At a time when Chestertown is seriously developing a sophisticated economic development game plan, this may also be a good opportunity to reevaluate downtown’s current connectivity to make sure we don’t leave that impression.

One of the more gratifying moments for anyone running a business is to be in a new location and instantly gain access to a wifi network without a password. And, on the other side of the equation, there is nothing is more terrifying as not being able to get a stable cellular connection when you really need it.

Our typical business visitor is unpleasantly surprised with the lack of connectivity to reach the world’s information and commerce highway. As a result, the unconnected may be late for a meeting, lose a deal, not able to call the home office, or even tell their family they are running late.

While these examples do not typically rise to the level being life-threatening, they do send a very clear message that Chestertown remains comfortably in the 20th Century, i.e. a deal killer for young entrepreneurs, second home owners, and even retirees, who require 7/24 connectivity for themselves and their customers/visitors.

The tragedy of being typecast as a dark town is that it’s not accurate. The Town of Chestertown, through government grants, did indeed create a free outdoor public wifi network just a few years ago. And some stores and businesses have allowed customers or clients get on their own servers without password protection. And finally, Chestertown, just for the record, literally sits on one of the most robust fiber optic networks in the country.

So why does Chestertown connectivity still suck?

There are a few reasons. The first is that without a cell tower close to downtown, AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers (Sprint & T-Mobile seem to do better) lose a considerable amount of their internet and phone access range. Second, many businesses and stores (including Washington College’s campus) think that allowing open access to their networks will expose them to security risks. And finally, there is has been no coordinated effort yet to create a downtown connectivity strategy. On the latter, the time seems right to start such an effort.

By working together, Chestertown’s downtown stakeholders can very quickly end our era of dodgy connectivity for a surprisingly microscopic investment. By using the Town’s existing wifi network as its foundation, stores, law offices, banks and other public spaces can purchase, or can be provided with, very affordable booster routers ($50 -$100) to carry Chestertown’s free signal into their places of business. By doing so, Chestertown’s visitors can not only access the web, but they can regain the use of their cell phones since all carriers now allow cell phone calls to be placed through the internet rather than cellular radio signals. The only long-term cost would be the electricity needed for the router itself. Peanuts.

This is the kind of “low-hanging fruit” strategy one hopes Chestertown can deploy sooner rather than later as it plots its long-term goals for large and more complex economic development opportunities down the road.