The Chestertown council, at its meeting April 1, approved resolutions in support of Enterprise Zone tax credits for three businesses in town.
New or expanding businesses in the Enterprise Zone, which covers the town’s main business and commercial areas, are eligible for several kinds of tax credits. Businesses hiring new qualifying employees can apply for an income tax credit of $1,000 for each new employee and $6,000, phased over three years, for each new economically disadvantaged employee. Businesses renovating or upgrading properties within the zone are eligible for credits against increases in county property tax based on the assessed value of improvements to the properties. The tax credits are administered by the Maryland Department of Commerce.
Kit-Team LLC is performing renovations to the former Stam drugstore and the restaurant/bar most recently operating as Lemon Leaf Grill and J.R.’s Past Time Pub. Both properties are undergoing extensive work. The former drugstore is being prepared to open as a luncheonette and ice cream parlor, with a target opening in the fall of this year. As part of the restoration, the owners plan to restore the original storefront façade. Inside, there will be a teaching kitchen and a community gathering place on the first floor, and an office space for a non-profit and an apartment on the second floor. The renovations are expected to cost some $3 million; the luncheonette plans to create at least one full-time job and four to six part-time jobs, while the non-profit would create two to three jobs, at least one of which would be full-time.
At the restaurant site, the renovations are expected to cost about $5 million, spread over four adjacent buildings. A 70-seat restaurant is planned for 337 High St., the former Lemon Leaf site; the building will also include a new kitchen on the first floor, and private dining areas, a pub, and banquet facilities on the upper floor. At 337 ½ High St., plans are for an independently-owned bar and restaurant with outdoor seating in the rear. A small storefront, offering rare and high-end distilled spirits, is slated for 339 High St., while 341 High St. is to be converted into three or more apartments. The applicants estimate that the four buildings will generate some 37 new jobs, as well as increasing tourist traffic and other economic activity. Kit-Team LLC is applying for property tax credits for the capital improvements.
The council voted unanimously to support the tax credit applications. Mayor Chris Cerino described the two Kit-Team projects as “a godsend” to the downtown business area, praising the investors for their “altruistic” commitment to the future of the town.
The council also approved a resolution in support of applications by KRM Development Corporation and KRM Construction Company, which have offices in the former bank building at 205 High St. The KRM companies are working to create the new Chestertown Business Park on Route 213 behind the Washington Square shopping center, among other projects. These companies are applying for income tax credits, stating that they both plan to create at least one new job in the upcoming year.
Also at the meeting, the council approved event permits for the Tea Party Festival and for Downrigging Weekend. Sabine Harvey, chairwoman of the Tea Party committee, said the festival over Memorial Day weekend would be “the same as always,” with a few minor tweaks. The Saturday street fair will close at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. as previously, to give the town’s street crew an earlier start for cleanup. Harvey said she had already met with the town crew and the police department, and everything is on course for the festival.
Drew McMullen of Sultana Education Foundation gave the presentation for Downrigging, which takes place at the end of October. He said the recent renovations to the town marina would have a major impact on the festival, allowing it to present almost all its events at the marina and on the foot of Cannon Street. Among the changes would be a “festival village” on the site of the former marina store, on the downriver side of the 98 Cannon St. restaurant, the former Fish Whistle. This village will feature live music and food vendors, with music playing until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights. The festival does not plan to use the foot of High Street, as in former years, but McMullen asked that the town not schedule any other events for that area, or for Wilmer Park, so those areas will be available for parking for festival attendees. Also, he asked that Front Street south of Cannon be closed to non-local traffic. There will be a fireworks display either Friday or Saturday night from Wilmer Park. The park will be closed the afternoon of the display to allow the fireworks to be set up safely.
The council also heard an update on the Chestertown bocce league, scheduled to begin its season in Wilmer Park April 16. Frank Hurst, the league president, said that last year’s league enrolled some 325 players. With three new teams signed up for the upcoming season, the league could have 350 players this year, he said. The league has $8,574 cash on hand, from which it will pay for maintenance of the turf in the park. He asked the town to ask any festivals or other events using the park not to run trucks onto the grass, so as to minimize the need for repairs. The bocce league also has a new website, which will offer updated schedules, scores and standings. The council approved a waiver of the open container law for the bocce season.
Cerino asked the council members for their opinions on a proposal to rename the marina “the Port of Chestertown,” as suggested by Councilman Marty Stetson. Cerino said the renovations in the town-owned facility have come a long way, and a new name might help the town to erase negative connotations around the marina from before the upgrades. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said many people will continue to use the old name, whatever the town decides. After some discussion, Cerino decided to wait for the return of Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, who was absent for this meeting, to make a decision on the renaming.