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Leslie Raimond and John Schratwieser on Transition and Saving the Fine Arts Building

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There will be a very important transition taking place in Chestertown at the stroke of midnight or thereabouts on December 31, 2017. A significant changing of the guards at the Kent County Arts Council will happen when Director Leslie Prince Raimond will formally step down and turn the organization over to her successor, John Schratwieser.

If this were just a time to celebrate Leslie’s achievements during her tenure in promoting the arts, it would be reason alone to justify a major community celebration of gratitude. But, in many ways, that is only half the story.

For it was Leslie, and her late husband, Vince, that were directly responsible for the creation of the Kent County Arts Council thirty-five years ago. And during their time at the wheel, this county saw an explosion of art creation and performance in the visual arts, community theater, music, poetry, dance, and creative writing. It was the combined forces of the Raimond family that have has lead to the region to an unprecedented level of maturity in arts programming to make it one of the Mid-Atlantic’s “go-to” rural arts scenes.

So it was for that very reason that the Spy was all the more eager to talk to Leslie and John about this important transition, and just as importantly, how they plan to use it as an opportunity to bring back the Fine Arts Building on Spring Street as a hub for the arts in Kent County and create studio space for local and visiting artists.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about the Kent County Arts Council please go here.

Spy Eye: Mr. Roberts at the Garfield

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The Spy is always interested in military operations taking place in Chestertown and quickly assigned an agent to cover the dress rehearsal of the WW II-era production of Mr. Roberts at the Garfield. This was the report we received this morning.

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“Mister Roberts” opens Friday and runs through February 19th. Friday and Saturday shows are at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 3pm. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 military/seniors and $10 for students. Tickets are available online at www.garfieldcenter.org or by calling 410-810-2060.”

Dreaming a Business: J.R. Alfree has Plans to Renovate High Street Building

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Local restaurateur and entrepreneur J. R. Alfree has a dream, and he’s serious about making it happen.

Faced with sky-high costs for maintenance, patchwork repairs, and upgrades, Alfree wants to completely renovate his 27,000 sg ft building on High St. and turn it into a multi-use venue for wedding receptions, six B and B type apartments, and a cake, candy and ice cream shop.

Alfree bought the building, home to the popular Lemon Leaf Café and JR’s Past-Time Pub, two years ago, after moving from his start-up restaurant on Cross Street.

“All that space is empty, so what do I do? Instead of saying the building is falling apart, I say the building has so much potential.”

While considering his options, he was introduced to architect Peter Allen, Peter Allen Construction Management, who knows the High Street building and has been involved with other Chestertown renovation work including Widehall on Water Street. A third, commercial architect Joseph Skinner, Skinner Associates, joined in the conversation and who also recognized the potential in overhauling the structure to take advantage of the rest of the building.

“Within a few minutes, we formed a team that wants to take this building to the next level. I think it’s something that Chestertown needs. I think there’s a need for places for people to stay, and a venue space for wedding receptions, banquets, and live music.”

The three worked together to design a basic structural plan to accommodate the overhaul and expansion.

“We’d try to finish the work in phases to try not to disrupt the current businesses,” Allen says. “It’s a big commercial project. The roof, for example, would have to be completely replaced along with the structural rebuilding. Even then, the group foresees only a day or two of closures during the construction.

Alfree understands a community’s sensitivity to change. For decades, like Andy’s, the back room was Chestertown’s iconic hotspot and venue for professional musicians.

“Some might look at this change as the wrong thing to do with this room—it has a lot of history—but it’s the only right thing to do to save the entire building. You have to understand we’re trying to protect the emotional connection, but it does have to be altered in the long run.”

Despite projected costs of up to a million dollars for the project, Alfree has researched and connected with a list of available loans.

“The thing that I want to say about Kent County is the six years I’ve been here is that there are more resources to help you grow your business than ever before. When I first moved here from Cross Street, I received funding from the Greater Chestertown Initiative, an amazing program,” he says.

Afree points out that various loan opportunities also exist from programs like PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing available for energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy installations, along with casino money used to reinvest in local communities.

“The investment group visited Chestertown, fell in love with it, and read our business plan and we’ve developed a great dialogue with them,” Alfree said.

Some might call it risk taking,  but Alfree is quick to recite the history of Dixon Valve’s founder, HW Goodall who at 15 in 1887 quit school to become an errand boy for a company in Philadelphia. Goodall began to design hose couplings but was fired for being too ambitious. Rather than seeing the job loss as a setback, the young man started his own company.

“He saw an opportunity after weighing the needs in his industry. Am I taking a risk? I don’t think so, but every achievement holds a risk,” Alfree says.

The Spy talked with J.R. last Friday.

This video is approximately 6 minutes long.

Deja Venue: Solar Company Seeks to Override Local Zoning

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Chestertown faces another showdown with Maryland’s Public Service Commission with a recent filing by Morgnec Road Solar LLC to place a solar field on Morgnec Road.

According to a December 16, 2016, Maryland Public Service Commission filing for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, Morgnec Road Solar LLC lists Simon Peter James as Manager of Sole Member.

The target site plan for 343 acres across from Delmarva Power and Light’s Chestertown Substation is inconsistent with current zoning designations.

Amy Moredock, Director Kent County Planning, Housing & Zoning, presented the case to the Chestertown town council during Tuesday’s session, recommending that the town’s interests in the matter should be represented by a legal intervention mechanism and work in tandem with any county effort to uphold county and town zoning laws.

Coming within a week of the Mills Branch application denial by a Public Utilities judge, the Morgnec solar case is another test of local zoning being challenged by energy companies who appeal to the Public Services Commission to override local zoning when a project is deemed as meeting the needs of public necessity.

Both the town and the county encourage renewable energy resources but want to see them meet local zoning requirements. Thousands of acres allowed by current zoning laws are available for energy projects throughout Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

Local resident and business owner Frank Rhodes called attention to the fact that Rt 213, north and south, and Morgnec Rd Rt 291 are main corridors to and from Chestertown and vast tracts of industrial solar fields would diminish the rural landscape.

“This is a gateway to Chestertown, a main route to one of the most historic towns in this country and to come into Chestertown from Millington or Kennedyville and to see these panels would be a horrible situation.” Rhodes is fully supportive of solar energy in appropriate areas.

The Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance has also been the forefront of challenging the Public Services Commission’s claim of preemption of local zoning laws. Addressing some of the reasons behind energy company choices, they write on their website “Developers seek farmland in Kent County and on the Eastern Shore because there are relatively large tracts of level, cleared land at prices far below that found in more populated areas. Our farmland is seen as undeveloped and waiting to be converted into a project.”

Planning Commission attorney Mitch Mowell said, “These companies are making money and disappearing. What they’re doing is buying tax benefits and taking advantage of the 1990s law that lets the PSC preempt if you want to place electric transmission wires and that local zoning can’t prevent that. That’s a big difference from a private company coming in and building where they choose. We need to get the legislature to understand that.”

The town council voted unanimously to officially file documentation to intervene before the Public Service Commission for further action to be delayed until after the appeals process for the Mills Branch project has concluded.

Governor’s Staff Letter on Marina Request Confuses and Disappoints

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A letter from Maryland’s Department of Budget & Management to supporters of the Chestertown Marina renovation regarding the town’s funding request for marina improvements resulted in disappointment and confusion in the town offices.

Although the Kent County News received an undated copy of the letter last week, the Mayor and Town have not received a formal response to their request to date.

In mid-October, 400 letters from county residents and businesses were sent to Governor Hogan to help underscore regional support for the project.

Addressing the $1.5 million request from the State’s capital budget, David Brinkley, Secretary of Budget and Management, noted that Governor Hogan had included $200,000 in the State’s capital budget for the marina project.

Mayor Cerino spoke last week to the Office of Capital Budgeting to clarify some of the points made in the letter, specifically paragraph 4, “While some of these funds have been used, there are still funds available to the Town of Chestertown that have not yet been expended. The total available balance available to the Town at this time is nearly $800,000.”

Cerino stated during the last town council meeting that available funds could not be used until permits have been received from the State.

Also, it has been noted that the $4 million mentioned in the Secretary’s letter is for the whole State, not just Chestertown.

While the marina project still moves forward with funds on hand and awaits positive news for a $1 million grant request to the US Department of Agriculture, more funding information will be made available on January 18 with the state budget’s publication.

Due to the holidays, the next town council meeting is Tuesday, January 3.

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Remembering Connie by Margie Elsberg

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Editor’s Note. A special friend of Chestertown (and the Chestertown  Spy) passed away last week at the age of 90. Connie Godwin died peacefully early Tuesday morning in the town she loved. Margie Elsberg, her close friend, collaborator, and neighbor, was kind enough to share these thoughts with our readers and our community

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Connie Godwin

In the late 1970s, Connie and Stu Godwin were living in Anchorage, Alaska, looking forward to Stu’s retirement from the FBI. They decided that they wanted to move back east, even though they had enjoyed their decade in Anchorage, so they spent a few days driving through small town Pennsylvania, looking for a place they liked.

Frustrated that nothing seemed to fit, they turned south toward the DC suburbs to return their borrowed car, and that’s when Stu spotted a sign for Chestertown.

As a small child, he’d seen a performance on a show boat in Chestertown, the same show boat, Stu says, that inspired Edna Ferber’s book “Show Boat” and the hit Broadway musical.

“I decided I wanted to see the town again,” Stu said, breaking into a broad smile as he remembered the day. “So we swung into town and it had everything we were looking for: hospital, college, water, pleasant atmosphere.”

And that’s how Connie and Stu Godwin chose Chestertown, a town they loved and that loved them back. They built a house at the end of Birch Run Road by phone and mail while still living in Anchorage, then moved in 1980.

After 36 years of friendships and community involvement, Connie Godwin died peacefully on Tuesday morning at Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a few blocks from her home. She was 90 years old.

A native Washingtonian and the daughter of a Hearst newspaper editor, Connie was a newspaperwoman and a news junky all her life. As a student newspaper reporter at the College of William and Mary, she helped break a story of that was picked up by the Associated Press about college quotas for minorities. Later, back in DC, she was a newsroom go-fer, a copy boy, at Phil Graham’s Washington Post—a job she was proud of for the rest of her life.

FBI assignments took Stu and Connie to Knoxville and Miami, years when Connie was busy with her young family, but when they moved to Anchorage, Connie returned to newspapering. She thrived as an editor at the Anchorage Times, a paper that she bragged was “the largest newspaper in the largest city in the largest state.” And when she and Stu moved to Chestertown—their three kids were mostly out of the nest by then—Connie moved to the Kent County News, working for Editor Hurtt Derringer.

It wasn’t long, however, before the phone rang, and she got an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who’d been interviewed by Connie in Anchorage more times than either could count, had heard that she’d moved “to Washington” and he wanted to know if she’d take a one-day-a-week job as his press secretary.

The rest is history.

The one-day gig morphed pretty quickly into a full-time second career that lasted for 20 terrific years. Connie took an apartment on Capitol Hill and, because she never drove, Stu would shuttle her to work on Monday mornings and pick her up late on Friday nights. (“Alaska is four hours west,” Stu explains, “so the office started late in the morning and finished well into the evening.”)

When Connie retired in October of 2000 at the age of 74, she was the longest serving press secretary on the Hill, and also (her favorite statistic) the oldest.

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Connie with Sen. Ted Stevens (AK)

Here’s what Mitch Rose, now a senior vice president and top lobbyist for NBC Universal, wrote when he heard that Connie had died. He worked with Connie in Sen. Stevens’ office for nine years, including four as Chief of Staff.

“Connie was the steady rock in Ted Stevens’ press operation for years. They were peers in age, and much like him, she was more concerned with getting the work done right rather than getting the credit….She was the rare adult in a young people’s world of Capitol Hill and seemed to thrive off the energy. She led by example and there are literally hundreds of young Alaskans who owe her a debt for the honest, loyal and earnest role model she provided.”

On this side of the Bay, Connie has always found time for Chestertown and Kent County. She served on the boards of Kent Youth, the Chester River Hospital, the Chester River Hospital Foundation, Soroptimists, Questers and the Kent County Historical Society. She was, until the historic house was put up for sale, a docent at Geddes Piper House.

Connie and Stu had four children, Mark, “Peekie,” Chris and Gregory. Gregory was a little boy when he died many years ago, and Chris was a much-loved stalwart newspaper copy editor in Delaware who died in 2009. Connie is also survived by three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and there’s one more on the way.

Mark Godwin and Peekie O’Connor live in Des Moines. Peekie is a physical education teacher who won “Teacher of the Year” honors a few years ago, and Mark Godwin recently retired after 18 years as Deputy City Attorney of Des Moines.

Mark says Connie was “the single most vigilant mother and grandmother ever,” and Peekie agrees. She adores Connie’s favorite warning to her brood—“Ah! Ah! Sharp corner! Sharp corner!”

After her retirement, around 2003, Connie and I started teaching an occasional series of journalism classes for WC-ALL, popular because Connie filled our classes with world-class guest speaker journalists who were happy to repay Connie for decades of kept deadlines and honest information.

Working with Connie and being her friend has been one of the great joys of my life.

Brrrr: Leap into the Bay for the Kent Center

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At Monday’s town council meeting, Rebekah Hock, Michael Adams and David Quinn and a Canadian goose invited everyone to jump into the Bay this Saturday. Yes, into the Bay, November 12.

But they are goosebumps for a great cause—to raise funds for Kent Center.

The 10th Annual Goose Bump Jump will kick-off at 9 AM Saturday at Betterton Beach in Betterton. Supporting this event will provide funding for “Wheels of Hope campaign, to get three new buses on the road, opening new opportunities for our community members with developmental disabilities to build skills, develop relationships, and to be physically active.”

Costumes are encouraged, and lunch will follow at Betterton Volunteer Fire Department.

“Kent Center, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides highly personalized 24-hour a day services for adults who have a broad spectrum of developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy, and/or physical disabilities. Since 1970, the mission of Kent Center has been to ensure the safety and well-being of each family member, treat them with respect and dignity and provide enriching opportunities and choices which will enable them to independently live, work and contribute positively to our community to the greatest extent of their abilities.”

To find at more about Kent Center go here

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