Monday nights Zoning Appeals Board hearing on the Chesmar Community Association’s petition to rescind the non-conforming use zoning for the Frank M. Jarman American Legion property at 9155 American Legion Road was a jarring exemplar of the idiom “No good deed shall go unpunished” and an unmistakable and sad reminder that Jim Crow remains alive and well in Kent County.
Since Minary’s Dream Alliance, Inc. (MDA) tenanted the American Legion property several years ago, they have done nothing but good for Kent County: from organizing and manning deliveries of groceries and fresh vegetables to food insecure seniors and children; to providing a much needed safe, secure and supervised place for area youth to gather for social events and educational programs; to partnering with Sumner Hall and Washington College and the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History in support of the Chesapeake Heartland Project; to collaborating with ShoreRivers on an environmental stewardship plan for the property as well as environmental education programming for area youth; to providing welcoming rehearsal space for the Chester River Chorale and meeting venue for a diverse group of local organizations including the Boy Scouts and the Bay Area Association of Realtors; and the list goes on. Continuation of these initiatives should be applauded and strongly encouraged at all levels of county government, not hindered and thwarted.
The Chesmar Association’s specious claim that the property should lose its non-conforming zoning status because its current owner – the American Legion – abandoned non-conforming use of the property at some point is a sham; to put it bluntly, a thinly veiled unsupportable cover for discriminatory NIMBY action. If it wasn’t evident at the outset of the hearing, the true basis for Chesmar’s zoning appeal was made clear by their lawyer’s unsupported, incendiary observation that maintenance of non-conforming use zoning of the property would likely result in the neighborhood being overrun by heroin addicts. The fact that the hearing date was scheduled to occur on the very same date that MDA was otherwise scheduled to complete its planned purchase of the property is also curious to say the least.
Chesmar’s attorney asserted that MDA does not have standing to object to the Association’s appeal because it does not own the property. That’s just bunk writ large. The fact is that since they tenanted the property, MDA has delivered an array of services to the community consistent with property zoning with the property owners’ concurrence despite COVID-related impediments to their ability to do so. Reciprocally, it could be argued that many of the Chesmar Association residents who signed on to the appeal don’t have standing to object to the current zoning of the property as they are not full-time permanent residents of the neighborhood.
The Zoning Appeals Board Chair’s advice to attendees at Monday nights’ hearing that the Board’s response to Chesmar’s appeal would be solely based on a backward in time look at the use of the property threatened to ignore the fact of its ongoing non-conforming use and justify property rezoning based on a questionable, shortsighted technicality. The Zoning Appeals Board is scheduled to complete its hearing on the Chesmar Community Associations appeal next Tuesday. It is my fervent hope that Appeals Board Members will have the foresight to elect to look forward as well as backward in making their determination, do what’s right by the County, the American Legion, and MDA, and properly relegate the Chesmar Community Associations petition to the circular file where it belongs.