The Sultana Education Foundation has withdrawn its offer to buy the “shipyard” property it has leased from the Town of Chestertown since 1997.
However, the foundation said it would like to revisit the issue if the town decides to offer the property for purchase or lease.
In a Feb. 24, 2020, letter to the town council and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Drew McMullen, the foundation’s president and c0-founder, said the organization saw no purpose in having its offer outstanding as the town considers the best use for the property and whether to declare it surplus and available for purchase.
“SEF applauds the Towns efforts to determine the best and highest use of this property. Understanding this process is likely to take months, if not longer, we see no utility in having our offer outstanding as this process moves forward,” McMullen wrote. “When and if the Town makes a determination to offer this property to the public for purchase or lease, SEF would welcome an opportunity to revisit this issue.
“In the meantime, SEF would be grateful for the opportunity to remain at the 346 Cannon Street lot as a tenant based upon the terms of our current agreement,” he wrote. “If at a future date the Town wishes SEF to vacate the property, we would appreciate as much advance notice as possible so we can avoid a disruption to our operations.”
“Since SEF’s founding in 1997, we have committed ourselves to improving educational, cultural, and economic opportunities for the citizens of Chestertown,” McMullen wrote. “At the core of our operating philosophy is the premise that our organizational interests are directly linked to the vitality of Chestertown and Kent County. If a higher and better use for the Town Yard property can be found, we ultimately believe this is in our best interests as well.
The foundation had offered to buy the parcel it leases at 346 Gannon Street in an Oct. 23, 2019, letter to the town. Ingersoll deferred the issue for the town’s newly elected council to consider in January.
McMullen encouraged the town at its Jan. 6 council meeting to find the best use for the shipyard.
“If there’s a way for the town to go out and make hay with this property, over and above what we can do with it, you should do it,” he said at the Jan. 6 meeting. “We are not saying we have any right to this property whatsoever. We just have a need for it, I’m not sure anyone else does.”
At the Jan. 27 council meeting, a group of citizens asked the town to consider a mixed-use development on the 2-acre parcel at the corner of Cannon and Mill streets, where the town’s maintenance yard and the Sultana’s shipyard are located.
“It’s time to rethink the use of this property,” said Barbara Jorgenson of the MilCan Neighborhood Association at the Jan. 27 council meeting. “In fact, we need to look at our own comprehensive plan which does anticipate the redevelopment of this property.”
“Town Yard and Sultana Boat Yard: During the recent comprehensive rezoning, the zoning of the Town Yard parcel was split to create a C-2 Downtown Commercial area on the downtown half of the parcel, and RB Professional Office on the Mill Street half of the parcel,” says Chestertown’s 2015 comprehensive plan, page 37. “It is anticipated that the Town Yard will be moved within the next five years to a new location more appropriate to its industrial function, such as Talbot Boulevard. This will create the opportunity to build a mixed-use development with residential, office and commercial uses.”
The Sultana Education Foundation has leased the publicly owned property from the town for $1 a year since 1997 to support its educational programs.
McMullen, at the Jan. 6 meeting, said the use of the shipyard has changed since the Sultana was launched in 2001 to more of a maintenance facility and to serve as a staging and storage area for their paddle programs. He said 40 to 50 canoes and kayaks are stored there.
“We actually serve as many students in our canoe and kayak programs now as we do on the [Sultana],” he said Jan. 6. “It’s a very helpful place to store and work on that gear.”
He said the location of the shipyard was also ideal for its proximity to the Holt Center on Cross Street, which serves as SEF headquarters and main teaching facility.