A theme of the smash-hit musical Hamilton is Alexander Hamilton’s behind-the-scenes deals with Jefferson and Madison. And a theme for Chestertown’s Historic District Commission and its Town Council is the recent apparent behind-the-scenes deal with Washington College over the fate of the landmark Armory.
Without any public announcement, let alone discussion, the Historic District Commission voted at its October 5 meeting to permit the demolition of the Armory. This request was coyly disguised on the agenda as “New Business, Washington College, 509 S. Cross Street, demolition.”
This vote violated the HDC’s own Guidelines in numerous ways, the most apparent is that such a request must be filed 25 days before the scheduled meeting at which the request is to be considered. This one was filed on September 28 for an October 5 meeting—that’s 18 days short of the requirement.
The Guidelines list literally dozens of other requirements for consideration of a demolition. From what I have seen so far, almost every requirement was ignored. At no time during the October 5 meeting, did any member of the HDC even refer to any of these requirements.
What is both ironic and truly outrageous is that Kees de Mooy and John Seidel, who wrote the HDC Guidelines, participated in this October 5 HDC meeting. De Mooy is the Town’s representative and staffer to the HDC. He routinely reviews applications and is responsible for advising the HDC on policies and procedures. Seidel, a Washington College employee, made a presentation on behalf of Washington College. It is impossible for either of them to argue that they were unaware of the Guidelines requirements—or that these requirements don’t somehow now matter.
Although not required by the Guidelines, this HDC approval to tear down the Armory was rubber-stamped by Chestertown’s Town Council on October 17.
All this left me feeling that there was something going on behind the scenes to which those of us in the general public are not privy. Therefore, I filed a Maryland Freedom of Information Act request for all documents related to Washington College’s request and all communications with the Town staff, the HDC, and the Town Council related to this request. The Town’s responses are due by October 27.
I will let you know what I find out.