The Chestertown Historic District Commission could possibly vote to reconsider the Garfield Center’s application to place an LED sign above the entrance to the Prince Theatre — because the Center’s paid consultant, Cherylin Widell, is alleged to have parlayed the personal opinion of an employee at the National Park Service into an official finding of the agency’s Office of Technical Services — when she made persuasive arguments to the commission on Dec 7 to approve the sign.
“The NPS team of professionals, including two who live and have worked in Maryland, and are familiar with Chestertown, reviewed the submittal,” Widell told the Historic Commission on Dec 7. “The NPS stated, the programmable sign does not violate the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards in anyway…the proposed programmable sign meets the Secretary of the Interiors Standards.”
After inquiries to the agency’s Office of Technical Services, where Widell claimed the proposal for the sign was officially endorsed, the employee contacted the Garfield Center’s architect, Peter Newlin, to correct the record and denied Widell’s claims of an official finding by the agency. The employee is also writing a letter to the town to correct the record.
In his communication with Newlin, the employee said he had indicated to Widell that his “personal and private opinion” could not be represented as an official conclusion of National Park Service.
Soon after the revelation, Philip Dutton, executive director of the Garfield Center, contacted Michael Lane, chair of the Historic Commission, and apologized for “any misunderstanding” and asked if a correction of Widell’s statements would change the original outcome of the favorable 4-1 vote on Dec 7. Dutton has asked for a new hearing if the commission believes the original vote was compromised by Widell’s misstatements.
Dutton’s letter states that Widell will present again to the commission but only to offer her personal opinion as an expert in historic preservation.
Below is part of Widell’s original presentation to the Historic Commission on Dec 7.
Jay Yerkes of Yerkes Construction, the contractor for the Garfield Center, said that the staff at the Garfield Center was disappointed, as they too believed Widell had received an official finding from NPS.
“…The National Park Service has reviewed the proposed programmable screen and determined that placing it on the Garfield Center for the Arts meets the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation,” Widell wrote in a letter to the Garfield Center two days before the Dec 7 hearing.
“This is not a position we wanted to be in.” Yerkes said, “and is why the Garfield Center contacted the Historic Commission.”
“We felt it was the right thing to notify the town and ask for a new hearing,” Yerkes said.
The Historic Commission will take up the matter on Jan 2 to determine if Widell’s comments on the National Park Service may have impacted the final vote. The commission could then vote to reconsider the application for the LED sign.
In a letter to Town Manager Bill Ingersoll dated Dec 18, the town’s attorney, Stewart Barroll recommended a de-nova hearing to reconsider the sign application and “remove any possible taint from the Commission’s ultimate decision.”