ESLC’s Jim Bass Reports on Eastern Shore’s Preparedness for Rising Seas Levels

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Given the nature of things – literally – it won’t be surprising for the Eastern Shore to have several studies prepared in the decades ahead that record and evaluate the dangers facing its rural communities as sea levels continue to rise throughout the century.

With the Delmarva Peninsula being one of the country’s most vulnerable landscapes for flooding and erosion as the result of global warming, there is an ever growing concern on the part of local government staff, conservation organizations, agricultural associations, and state agencies on what is being done, and what could be done, to prepare the Shore for this extraordinarily dramatic shift in climate.

One of the first of these has just been prepared by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy with a new study to assist local governments to plan for the impacts of sea level rise. Titled “Mainstreaming Sea Level Rise Preparedness in Local Planning and Policy on Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” the study is centered on sea level rise projections for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in the years 2050 and 2100.

This report was written on behalf of the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation Partnership  – a regional workgroup of local government staff, partners from the State of Maryland, academic institutions, and nonprofits for that very reason.

The ESCAP assists communities in reducing climate vulnerabilities and risks; collects and shares information among communities and decision makers; and educates members, residents, and elected leaders on risks and adaptation strategies. It also serves to raise the visibility and voice of the Eastern Shore and rural regions in conversations about adaptation and resilience.

The Spy sat down last week with Jim Bass, ESLC’s Coastal Resilience Specialist, who helped manage the study, last week to find out what the significant takeaways were and what must be done in the future to protect and defend the Mid-Shore from this dangerous new future we face.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information regarding this study, ESCAP, or ESLC’s coastal resilience program, please contact ESLC Coastal Resilience Specialist Jim Bass at jbass@eslc.org.The study is available to view and download at www.eslc.org/resilience.

Harvey Is New Farmers’ Market Manager

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Sabine Harvey, Chestertown Farmers’ Market manager

Sabine Harvey is the new Chestertown Farmers’ Market manager.

At the Chestertown Council meeting, Feb. 4, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper announced that Harvey will take over as manager effective immediately. Harvey’s appointment was unanimously approved by the council. Councilman Marty Stetson praised Harvey’s “abundant energy,” saying that she would be a wonderful addition to the Saturday morning market.

Harvey, a Maryland Master Gardener, is an Extension Program Assistant at the Kent County extension office of the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She coordinates the school gardens at Kent County Middle School, has run plant clinics at the farmers’ market, and coordinates the extension office’s winter seed exchange. She has also been chairman of the Chestertown Tea Party for the last several years.

The position of farmers’ market manager became vacant last June with the death of Owen McCoy, who had run the market on behalf of the town since its revival in the 1980s. The position was filled on an interim basis by McCoy’s daughters until Harvey’s appointment.

Harvey said that among her first projects would be to update the farmers’ market website. She said she would ask Francoise Sullivan of Moo Productions, who manages the websites for the town and the Tea Party Festival, to take it over and bring it up to date. The website was previously run by one of the artisans’ market vendors. She said it takes a good deal of technical expertise to get an attractive website. She said the upgrade would be good for the market and its vendors. “Francoise does good work,” she said.

Kuiper said that she and Harvey would meet with Jamie Williams, Kent County Director of Economic Development, about other ways to advertise and develop the market. She said the website could be paid for from the membership fees paid by vendors in the market.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll suggested that Harvey ask the vendors to contribute photos of their farms and other information to help make the website useful. He said he would contact Sullivan to help set up the upgrade.

Harvey agreed that it would be good to get everybody involved in keeping the website up to date and appealing. She also mentioned that many of the vendors have undergone training and obtained equipment to let them accept SNAP and WIC debit cards at the market. However, customers aren’t aware of this possibility, so nobody uses them – potentially leading to lost sales. She said the market needs to publicize that capability.

Kuiper said there is a meeting for market vendors scheduled for March 5 in Town Hall. Representatives of the Chestertown Garden Club, which maintains Fountain Park, and representatives of the county health department will be there. She said she and Harvey will also be talking to Bill Drazga of Music Life about having live music in the park during farmers market hours, from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

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Cerino Reports on State of Town and Marina

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino

Mayor Chris Cerino delivered the 2018 Report of Municipal Affairs at the Jan. 22 meeting of the Chestertown Council. It was an animated performance, enlivened by a slide show of street scenes, new construction, and crowds at local festivals.

The full report is online at the town website.

Cerino said the town is in a “strong financial condition,” with $15,621,447 in total assets over liabilities. The increase in net assets comes from a major increase in capital grants, most of which were applied to upgrades at the marina. Grants almost tripled, going from $1,089,532 in 2017 to $2,981,663 in 2018.

This increase in total assets is despite, at the same time, the fact that the town’s revenues from property taxes, income taxes and shared revenue from the state of Maryland decreased. The major reason, Cerino said, was the continuing effects of the Great Recession, which depressed the local tax base beginning in 2008. In response, the town took “the difficult step or raising taxes for the first time since 1991.” He said the council hopes that the raise from $0.37 to $0.42 per $100 assessed value, along with improving property values, will provide sufficient revenues to cover expenses for “a meaningful period of time.”

The town will also continue to ask Kent County for a tax differential to recognize services, such as police protection, road maintenance, and planning, that town residents are charged for in county taxes even though the town provides them within its jurisdiction. “Our taxpayers pay taxes for these services twice,” Cerino said. The county formerly provided a lump sum payment in recognition of this discrepancy, but it stopped payment in 2014.

In addition, Cerino asked the county to apply its hotel tax to Air B-and-Bs and other informal room rentals that do not currently pay the tax. In addition to depriving the county and town of tax revenues, these businesses adversely affect the tax-paying hotels and B-and-Bs in the community.

Among achievements for the year, Cerino listed extensive improvements and repairs to the town-owned marina, including new bulkheads and piers, a new marina building, and raising the grade of the parking lot by up to two feet to combat periodic flooding. Along with Washington College’s capital improvements on its waterfront property, these efforts significantly upgrade the town’s riverside presence, which could lead to an increase in tourist revenue, an important ingredient in the town’s economy.

Cerino also noted new business investments in the town, including the Dixon Valve business campus north of town, expanded facilities at LaMotte and Shore Distributors, and the reopening of the local movie theater by Chesapeake Movies. In addition, he listed improvements to the Margo Bailey and Luisa Carpenter parks, and state approval of Phase IV of the Rail Trail, which would extend it to Foxley Manor.

The town negotiated a new set of rules for the farmers’ market, following the death of long-time market manager Owen McCoy. Cerino also noted the importance of the local hospital and the council’s concern over its status and continued service to the community.

Among goals for the coming year, Cerino listed keeping taxes at their current level; completing improvements at the marina and developing a management structure to operate it; protecting the town’s drinking wells “at all costs;” repairing and repaving streets; improving and expanding recreational programs; and working to retain services at the hospital.

Cerino also gave a detailed update on funding for the marina, particularly private donations to augment the state and federal grants that have provided most of the funding to date. “There’s been some really great news actually on the marina fundraising front,” he said. After a recent visit to the marina with him, representatives of the Chesapeake Bank and Trust donated $5,000 to the rebuilding project, with the possibility of another $5,000 in a year’s time to get the organization’s name on one of the nine pillars at the front of the marina building. Another $50,000 came from the Ingersoll-Stevens family, in exchange for naming the plaza next to Scott’s point for a loved one.

Chestertown marina with new docks

And “best of all,” Cerino said, an anonymous donor pledged $250,000 to name the marina building. “So this is to be,” Councilman Marty Stetson joked, “the Anonymous Building?”  “This a little bit embarrassing for me; this is really not my style,” Cerino said. He said the donor made it a condition of the pledge that the building be named for the Cerino family. “It’s going to be kind of weird to be alive and walking around with my name on somewhere…” he said.

As a result, all work to date – including another layer of paving to be installed in the spring – is paid for. While the work was ongoing, the town had dug into a line of credit to keep contractors paid, but the donations allowed the town to pay the credit “almost down to zero,” Cerino said. “I can’t thank those private donors enough,” he said. In addition to paying down the line of credit, they allowed the town to put up one-to-one matches for several state grants that required the matches to activate them. “Without those donors, we would have like one dock out there,” he said.

Remaining work includes repairing a contractor’s error on the boat ramp that leaves its lower end above the water at extreme low tide. As a result, launching boats in low tide is very difficult and can damage boat trailers. “It’s not cheap to fix,” Cerino said. He said a new contractor has been lined up to do the job, for about $120,000. The work is scheduled for March, and if it’s not completed at that point, it may have to wait until the end of the busy season. In that case, Cerino said the town might have to erect a sign advising boaters not to use the ramp at low tide.

Also, fuel lines need to be extended to the end of the fuel dock. Additional paving needs to be laid, and the large metal shed on the property needs to be removed. Cerino said a local farmer had agreed to take away the building at no cost to the town. “His machinery’s already down there,” he said. And setting up the office for the marina remains to be done. Total cost for all those projects is estimated at $200,000, Cerino said.

After some discussion of alternatives to finance the remaining work, including the possibility of adding onto the USDA loan and using the town’s line of credit, Cerino turned to the question of how the marina should be managed. He said that Matt Tobriner, who was a key figure in the waterfront study committee that led to the town’s purchase of the marina, had put together an informal group to study the marina and its management. Cerino said the group, which he described as having “some really good brainpower,” was willing to continue its work as long as the town felt its advice was beneficial.

Cerino said the group suggested looking into working with a management company that specializes in marinas. He said the town had talked to representatives of three marina management groups, two of which weren’t interested because the marina was too small for their business models. The third company charges $4,000 monthly, plus a percentage of the marina revenues, to bring in their own manager to run the facility. The advantage of employing that company is their ability to advertise widely and provide experienced salesmanship, potentially increasing the business at the marina. “I see how they make money. I don’t really see how we make any money, other than to get it off our hands,” Cerino said.

The other approach is to hire one year-round fulltime manager, who could bring on seasonal workers, possibly high school or college students, in the months of greatest demand. “That’s basically what the town has always done,” Cerino said. He said the study group agreed that was probably the path that made the most sense for the town. “I think we need to maximize our revenues. The key to me is finding that person to take pressure off (the town’s financial officer) when it comes to doing the books,” he added.

Cerino summarized the study group’s other recommendations, including a program to market the marina. He noted that several of the town’s regular festivals, including Tea Party, Downrigging and the Jazz Festival, already bring good business to the marina. “The challenge will be marketing the marina for, say, July 13, when there isn’t a big event.” The group also suggested naming the facility “The Port of Chestertown,” to distinguish it from other marinas offering repairs and other services the town doesn’t plan to provide. An active website was also suggested. Cerino said the town’s webmaster would be involved. A particular advantage would be the ability of boaters to reserve docking slips online – he mentioned an online company specializing in that service. Also, a closer relationship to Main Street Chestertown would be beneficial in marketing the marina. A christening event, possibly around Labor Day, to honor the donors and launch the facility was also suggested.

On a more practical level, prospective visitors need to be aware of the services available: electricity and water at the docks, refueling facilities and waste pump out, winter storage and launching facilities, security arrangements, and a travel lift. He said it’s especially important to make available basic information about the town in the marina office, with rack cards for all local businesses and a street map showing them. “We need to basically get all this out there,” he said. He said he’d be willing to work with the website manager to provide photographs and other information. “We can set something up in a week that gives the image that this is a place people want to come to.”

Ingersoll said he had put together a preliminary budget, and that the figures suggested that paying some $50,000 to an outside firm to manage the marina was not in the town’s best interests. He also noted that leasing the facility to an outside management firm might expose the town to taxes that it doesn’t currently pay. “It would be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. He also noted that the town would not be able to give discounted slip rates to organizations like Shore Rivers and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources that use the facility to do important work on the upper river. He said the town should be able to find an experienced long-term manager if it advertises the position. “There’s a lot of talent around that could do a really good job for somebody.”

“We’re getting a lot of great free press,” Cerino said. He noted that Chestertown will have one of a handful of essentially new marinas nationwide. He also mentioned a possible festival on “one of those random weekends I was talking about” that he said would bring in “the kind of people you want to bring into your marina.”

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast at Rock Hall Fire Hall

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The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast will be held Monday, January 21, 2019, at the Rock Hall Fire Hall. Chester Valley Ministers Association (CVMA) with support from Kent County Arts Council sponsors this yearly celebration of the life and work of Dr. King. This gathering includes the presentation of the Humanitarian Awards, the Vincent Hynson youth awards, poetry by Robert Earl Price, and music by Kent County High School Jazz Ensemble, The Gospel Shepherds, and Chester River Chorale Chamber Singers. This year’s keynote speaker is William W. Davis, Jr. Cecil County Circuit Court Judge, who holds the distinction of being Cecil County’s first elected African American Judge.

In honor of the memory of Vincent Hynson, who passed away in 2004, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Committee and Kent County Arts Council recognize three Kent County Middle School students who exemplify the values and actions practiced by Vincent Hynson who was a beloved school teacher, pastor, community activist, and friend to many.

Teachers and administrators have selected three such students:

6th Grader Krishita Dusia lives in the Galena area and is a fine student whose favorite subject is math. She is active in Band, and loves archery.

Ariel Purnell is a 7th grader whose favorite subjects are math and social studies. Her after-school activities include being basketball manager.

The 8th Grade awardee is Ryland Bartley. A resident of Worton, Ryland loves sports, reading and math.

Award winners for Kent County Middle School students, Ryland Bartley, Krishita Dusia and Ariel Purnell.

 

Award winners for Kent County Middle School students, Ryland Bartley, Krishita Dusia and Ariel Purnell. Also pictured are members of the MLK Breakfast Committee: Leslie Prince Raimond, Rev. Shiela Lomax, Carolyn Brooks, Emerson Cotton, Rev. Mary Walker.

High School Student, Taiyana Goldsborough in front of the Trojan mural at Kent County High.

Also being presented at the January 21st Breakfast are the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Awards which are given for significant contributions to the quality of life in Kent County. The youth award will be presented to Taiyana Goldsborough, a senior at Kent County High School. She is active in sports and science with plans to attend college with a commitment to play lacrosse, and major in meteorology. She is involved in many community projects and is an officer in student government and the Minority Scholars Program.

The Humanitarian Award goes to Naomi Blackshire who is well known throughout Kent County for her concern and care of her friends, neighbors, and the residents throughout the Community.

Tickets, $15, can be purchased from CVMA members, or at the door. Breakfast starts at 7:00 am, with the program beginning at 8:00 am.

 

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Town and County Move to Oppose Morgnec Solar Field

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Mayor Chris Cerino gestures as council members Marty Stetson, and Ellsworth Tolliver, clerk Jen Mulligan, and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll listen during discussion of a proposed solar array on Morgnec Road at the Jan. 7 Chestertown Council meeting

The Chestertown Council, at its Jan. 7 meeting, heard from residents opposed to a proposed commercial solar energy array on the outskirts of town. After discussion, the council voted to sign on as an intervening party in the Maryland Public Service Commission’s hearing on the application by Morgnec Road Solar LLC to erect the solar field on the Clark Farm on Morgnec Road.

Elizabeth Watson and Janet Christensen-Lewis of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, and Frank Rhodes, who owns a furniture business across Morgnec Road from the site under consideration, spoke to the council.

Watson said she was offering herself as a resource to the council for background on the issue of the solar field. She said she first became aware of the site some 10 years ago when the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy was involved in a project to develop the Clark Farm as a mixed-use residential area. That project, which included some solar energy for the homes and businesses, was widely praised for its attention to environmental issues, but it was abandoned when the Great Recession of 2008 made it unrealistic to continue. The site is in a designated growth area for Chestertown, according to the town’s comprehensive plan.

The immediate situation, Watson said, depended on the Kent County Commissioners’ decision on a request by Morgnec Road Solar for a zoning text amendment for the property, which is under county jurisdiction. With two newly-elected commissioners, that decision may not be made before a pre-hearing on the case by the Public Service Commission, scheduled for Jan. 23. If the town enlists as an intervening party in the case, it can request a postponement of the preliminary hearing, allowing the county time to decide on the developer’s request for a text amendment to allow solar fields in residential and commercial districts throughout the county. It would also allow the town, through its attorney, to negotiate conditions with the state. “It’ll give you a say, in the worst case,” Watson said.

“I believe in renewable energy, big-time,” Watson said. “I just believe it’s the wrong place.” The county’s zoning has set aside several areas where commercial solar power generation is permitted, many of them near the Route 301 corridor between Galena and Millington. Watson said the county was one of the first in the nation to look at zoning for solar installations, and it remains “ahead of the game” in providing for it and welcoming it. But there need to be places for people to live and work, and the Clark farm is far better suited for that use, she said, especially considering its location on one of the main entrances to town.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked why the developer was insistent on using this site, when the county zoning has set aside others for the purpose.

Watson said the proximity of an electrical substation and a major loop of power lines was a major factor, allowing the developer to sell their power directly to the grid. She said it’s typical for developers to find a piece of land they think will work, then try to get the zoning changed to accommodate their projects. She noted that the substation would need to be enlarged to handle the new load.

Elizabeth Watson (left) and Janet Christensen-Lewis of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance

The developer has an option for a 35-year lease on the property, said Christensen-Lewis. The lease depends on county approval for the project.

Councilman Marty Stetson said that when the proposal first came before the council, a couple of years ago, he asked how many employees the project would have once it was completed. He said the developer tried to shift the answer to the number who would be employed during construction, but when pressed admitted there might not be even one full-time employee once the array was up. “I just think there’s a better use for the property than what they’re proposing,” he said. “Why don’t they go down to the landfill?”

Mayor Chris Cerino said the council appeared to be in agreement that the project was “not a great idea.” He asked whether the council was willing to incur more legal expense to oppose it if it wasn’t necessary at this stage. He asked if the council could simply refer to its previous letter of opposition.

Watson said the developer has opened a new case, so the town needs to submit a new letter to be listed as an intervening party. It could incorporate the previous letter with an updated cover letter and wait for further developments before taking any more action, she said.

Frank Rhodes

Rhodes said he supports solar energy if it is managed correctly. He handed around a set of images that he had presented to the county’s planning commission, including a map of the proposed installation and simulated before-and-after views of the field as it would appear from the roadside – although he said he wasn’t aware until Watson mentioned it that the panels would be 20 feet high, so his depiction was actually less intrusive-appearing than the actual proposal. He noted other businesses and government installations along the route – including Bramble Construction, Atlantic Tractor, the State Highway Administration and the Kent County Public works building. The KRM business campus adjoins the property at its northwest corner, and there are several homes in the vicinity.

Rhodes said he had asked the planning commission that the proposed solar field be kept a minimum of three miles from any town in the county. He also asked that the developers provide enough money up front to decommission the facility, adjusted if necessary for inflation. In addition, he asked that the principals agree not to sell the facility to any overseas company. Summing up, he said it would be “nice to have something better” on the property. “I don’t like the idea of having this as a gateway to Chestertown. It’s just too close,” he said.

After Rhodes’ presentation, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll summarized the issues, noting that the last time the project was turned down, the developers approached the town to ask about annexation. He read the letter previously sent, which asked the Public Service Commission to postpone action pending the appeal of a Washington County court case challenging the doctrine under which the Public Service Commission can overrule local zoning to preemptively issue a certificate of public necessity for power plants. Kent and Queen Anne’s counties are parties to that case. He said that it would be appropriate for the town to contact its representatives in Congress to address the federal law allowing preemption of local zoning, which he said is being applied wrongly today. He recommended that the council adopt a motion to add itself as an intervening party.

Tolliver said that he was initially reluctant to take a position on the case, but he had studied the issue since the last council meeting and felt that the town should intervene. He so moved, and the motion carried unanimously.

Tuesday night, in her departmental report at the County Commissioners’ meeting, Amy Moredock, county director of planning and zoning listed the Morgnec Road project among several text amendment requests to be heard by the commissioners. She reported that the county planning commission, in its December 2018 meeting, unanimously recommended that the request be denied. The planning commission’s letter to the commissioners cited the following reasons for the unfavorable recommendation:

• The County identified and designated locations suitable for larger utility-scale renewable resource facilities through the Renewable Energy Task Force (RETF) recommendations made in 2011. The RETF reconvened in 2015 to review the existing Ordinance provisions in this regard. At that time, the Planning Commission and County Commissioners found that the standing renewable energy provisions served the needs of the public and remained consistent with the Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan.

• Therefore, the Commission does not find that a public need now exists for the proposed text amendment.

• Further, the County has designed zoning districts in which the proposed use is already permitted.

• Many parcels zoned RR [Rural – Residencial] and CR [Commercial – Residencial]are located within mapped designated growth areas, as well as within Tier 1, 2, and 3 Areas. Therefore, this proposal is inconsistent with municipal growth areas.

• The purposes of the RR and CR Districts are to provide for residential development, as well as commercial uses which support the communities and provide economic development opportunities.

• The amendment has been put forward solely for the interest of the applicant, as it is compatible with the developer’s business model with no economic development potential for the County.

• The proposed amendment deviates from the Comprehensive Plan, as the scale of the proposal is neither consistent with the Comprehensive Plan nor the Intent of the Zoning Districts to which this proposal applies.

The full letter from the County Planning Commission to the Kent County Commissioners and Morgnec Road Solar’s application for the text amendment are available as attachments to the commissioners’ Jan. 8 agenda.

The county commissioners will schedule and advertise a public hearing at which both the applicants and opponents can present their cases before deciding whether to grant the text amendment. In response to a question by the commissioners, Moredock said that the planning commission’s attorney has filed to intervene in the Morgnec Solar case. The Town of Chestertown and the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance were also requesting intervening party status in the case before the Public Service Commission.

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Solar Farm Looking at Site Near Town

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Mayor Chris Cerino listens as Town Manager Bill Ingersoll makes a point

Should there be a large solar energy farm directly outside Chestertown? That question arose at the Dec. 17 council meeting, as Mayor Chris Cerino brought the council a request by the Kent County Commissioners for a letter of opposition to such an installation on a large tract on Morgnec Road.

Cerino said the proposal, by the Morgnec Road Solar group, was previously submitted about two years ago, at which point the commissioners and the council made their opposition known. At that point, the developer dropped the proposal, but it has now resubmitted it.

The Clark farm, as the tract in question is known, lies in Chestertown’s designated growth area, just outside town limits on the north side of Morgnec Road. It was being considered for annexation about 10 years ago, before a group seeking to develop it as a residential community withdrew their proposal in light of the real estate market collapse that accompanied the Great Recession of 2008. Morgnec Road Solar proposes to build an array on about 255 acres.

The county’s objection to developing the tract as a solar facility is on grounds that the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances have designated other areas as suitable for solar energy. Cerino said that the project is also opposed by the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, a group that came together in response to proposals to put large wind turbines on farmland within the county.

Councilman Marty Stetson said the site “makes no sense.” He said there are plenty of other areas in the county that are suitable, and “the sun shines everywhere.”

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked why that particular site was being promoted, in view of the county’s previous opposition and the dictates of the comprehensive plan. He said he would like time to study the issue, which originally came up before his election to the council.

Cerino said the developer claimed that other areas of the county “aren’t as prime” for solar generation.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the location of an electrical substation “across the street” was probably an important factor. He said the council probably doesn’t need to act at once. “We just need to put our names on the list,” he said.

Councilman David Foster asked if the County Commission, which now has two new members, may have changed its mind since the proposal was first submitted.

“I think they feel the same, but we may want to find out” before action, Ingersoll said. Morgnec Solar is asking the county for a zoning text amendment to allow the project, he said. That would have to be approved by the commissioners.

Cerino said there is a possibility that Morgnec Solar would ask the town to annex the Clark farm, which would “put the ball in our court.” The council deferred action until the new members have had a chance to study the issue.

The developer’s application to the Maryland Public Service C0mmission for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the 45-megawatt facility is available online as an attachment to the Kent County Commissioners Dec. 18 agenda.

In his monthly report, Police Chief Adrian Baker said he has made offers of employment to two candidates, to fill vacancies on the force, but as of the council meeting they had not accepted. He said the candidates would need to pass psychological tests and a polygraph session before qualifying to attend the police academy for six months. Upon graduation, they could be certified and begin work.

Baker also said that a suspect in a series of burglaries, about 40 in all, has waived extradition and is to be brought back to Maryland to face charges. A vehicle stolen by the suspect is also to be returned to the county.

The council unanimously approved a resolution to support a tax credit for Zelda’s, a “speakeasy” bar being built on the second floor of the building of Play It Again Sam’s coffee shop by Jeff Maguire, who owns the building. The building is in the town’s Arts and Entertainment District as well as the county’s Enterprise Zone, making it eligible for 10 years’ of tax credits. Ingersoll said the business will create several new jobs as well as bringing business to town.

Stetson asked if the credits apply to the whole building or just the upstairs. Ingersoll said only the upstairs is eligible.

Tolliver asked if other new businesses in town are eligible for the credit. Ingersoll said they would be if they apply, which he said is “something of a process.” He said that Jamie Williams, the county’s economic development director, and Kay MacIntosh, who holds an equivalent position with the town, are helping promote the benefits for new businesses in the Enterprise Zone, which has some 1,200 acres in the county, mostly in and around Chestertown.

Ingersoll reported that the town’s application for $4.5 million in U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grants was not approved. The town had applied for the grants to repave town streets, many of which are in serious need of the repair. He said that most of the grants available in Maryland had gone to larger projects such as bridges on the western shore. He said it is more difficult for rural areas to get the same benefits as urban areas because of the sparser population. The thanked Dixon Valve and Chesapeake Charities for their help in getting the town’s application in order before the grant deadline.

Council OKs New Rules for Farmers’ Market

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Farmers’ Market vendor Jane Malone reads a suggested rule revision to members of the Chestertown Council.

The Chestertown Council, at its meeting December 17, agreed on new rules for the town’s farmers market after accepting input from vendors and other stakeholders.

Mayor Chris Cerino opened the discussion by noting that the council had been working on the revised rules for several months. An initial draft, presented to the council at the end of the summer, drew vendors to the Sept. 6 council meeting to comment on issues they were unhappy with, and the council agreed to circulate a revised list of rules for the vendors’ input. The responses, Cerino said, ran to seven single-spaced pages, which didn’t all agree with one another. The key suggestions were incorporated in a new version, which was again submitted to vendors for their comments. A number of vendors appeared at the Dec. 17 meeting to make their concerns known.

Cerino quickly summarized the main differences from earlier drafts. There will be no fee increase, and no vendors will be asked to move from their customary spaces. Non-profit groups using the market will not be required to obtain 501 C3 status. And priority for spaces in the market will be given to vendors from Kent County, with Queen Anne’s- and Cecil-based vendors next in line, as space allows. “Nobody’s going to be kicked out,” he said.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll added that vendors will not be required to have liability insurance, although it is strongly recommended. Also, he said, the town will try to meet vendors half-way on whether to open the market in bad weather, such as a hurricane or snowstorm by consulting with them before making a decision. He noted that it’s difficult to know very far in advance just what the weather will be on a given Saturday.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked whether the rules should designate reserved parking for vendors on High Street. He said the town had widened the sidewalk along the street a few years ago with the intention of putting vendors there.

Cerino said that overflow vendors could be moved to High Street if there was “a ton of demand” for market space. He said the market manager should be the initial judge of whether the High Street space would be needed. He thought it would be an issue primarily in the prime season, from April to October.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, whose ward includes the downtown area where the market is held, said she had spoken to representatives of the Chestertown Garden Club, which was studying whether to replace the sod on the Park Row side of the park. She said it might be necessary to move vendors from that area to High Street if the re-sodding project takes place. She said she had asked the Garden Club to put their request in writing and possibly send representatives to a council meeting to discuss their plans.

The grass in the park is in the worst condition in years, Cerino said. The park was re-sodded two years ago, but with heavy foot traffic and shade from the trees, he said it’s hard to get grass to grow. It basically needs to be re-sodded every couple of years, he said.

Kuiper also said that the rules should state that annual application fees are due January 1 of each year.

Farmers market vendor Dolly Baker asks about new market rules at the Chestertown Council meeting.

Cerino then turned to the audience for comments. Dolly Baker, a long-time vendor, said she would like to see the deadline for applications extended to Feb. 1 this year, because of the new rules coming into effect. Also, she said, there needs to be a provision for seasonal members, vendors whose products are only in season for a short time each year.

Kuiper said there is always a spot for seasonal vendors; “It’s never been a problem,” she said. “They’ve been worked in.”

Cerino suggested adding a sentence to the rules stating that seasonal vendors would be accommodated as needed.

Baker said she had filled out applications with the Kent County Department of Health. “Does the town get a copy?” she asked. She said representatives of the county came around and checked that vendors were displaying their certificates. “We just didn’t know if there was any communication to you,” she said.

Ingersoll said he hoped the health department would let the town know of any issues. He said returning vendors shouldn’t have to worry about being approved.

Baker also questioned the meaning of a rule stating that the market manager can ask a vendor to leave if they aren’t making “a significant contribution” to the market. She asked whether that would be a matter of monetary contribution, the manager’s opinion, or something else.

The rule was in the context of a vendor whose produce was found to be sub-par, Ingersoll said. “It means they’re making an effort to improve,” he said. He said the rule might be rephrased to that effect.

Jane Malone, another vendor, asked about a rule referring to licenses. She said the language is technically inaccurate, in that vendors don’t have licenses per se. Cerino suggested changing the reference to state that vendors must comply with “all applicable federal and state laws.” Malone said that would satisfy her request.

Malone asked about parking for vendors whose slots are on the grass inside the market, and therefore don’t have curbside slots. “It’s a haul for those of us bringing in produce,” she said, noting that allocation of spaces is “a tricky subject.”

Cerino said the town could reserve High Street spaces if three or four vendors got together and requested them.

Baker said nonprofit groups often take up parking spaces along the High Street perimeter before vendors get to the market. She asked if there is a way to reserve nearby spaces for market vendors.

Kuiper said the artisans’ market manager tells vendors they’re not allowed to park at Fountain Park. She said High Street is reserved for farmer vendors if there is any demand for the spaces.

Ingersoll suggested that nonprofits not be allowed to set up until an hour after the market opens, so as to allow vendors a chance to park close to their spots. Baker called that “a great suggestion.”

Cerino asked the council if they were prepared to pass the rules, contingent upon the suggested revisions discussed at the meeting. Councilman David Foster so moved, and the motion was passed unanimously. Town Clerk Jen Mulligan will work with Ingersoll and Kuiper to finalize the updated rules.

Baker thanked the council for its work. She said she would ask the market managers to call a meeting of vendors so everyone could get on the same page.

Shoge Says Bridge to Kent Would Stimulate Economy

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Sam Shoge (standing, at right) tells the Kent County Bay Bridge Monitoring Committee how a new bridge to Kent County could produce economic benefits

Sam Shoge, a former Chestertown councilman, told the Bay Bridge Monitoring Committee that the changing demographics of Kent County provide reasons to welcome, not oppose, a Bay Bridge span terminating in the county.

The meeting, in the Kent County Commissioners’ hearing room Nov. 28, drew several interested listeners, including some on the anti-bridge side of the debate. Shoge’s presentation, aided by a PowerPoint display, took about an hour, including a question-and-answer session with audience participation. Shoge noted that he is a graduate of Kent County High School, and a homeowner in the county –and that he hopes, in time, to be the parent of children in the county’s public schools.

Shoge’s talk, “Kent County, Maryland: Reimagining the Status Quo,” began by noting that the county’s population has declined by 4% since 2010, from 20,191 to an estimated 19,384. This is while the population of Maryland as a whole grew by 4.8%, according to the state Department of Labor and Licensing. The county’s population peaked in 2011, with an estimated 20,250 residents. Meanwhile, the populations of Kent’s three neighboring counties – Queen Anne’s and Cecil in Maryland, and Kent in Delaware – grew steadily in the same period.

Other statistics show that Kent’s population is the third oldest in Maryland, with a median age of 46.5 (behind Talbot and Worcester counties). The percentage of residents living below the poverty line rose from 12% to 14% between 2010 and 2018, well above the statewide average of 9.7%. The population of the county’s public schools fell by 19% between 2005 and 2015 and is not expected to recover in the next decade.

Property values in Kent have also declined over the last 10 years, with median home sale prices dropping 18% since 2009, from $264,000 to $219,000. This has resulted in a 9% decline in the real property tax base in the county, with a consequent drop in the county’s tax revenues. Single-family building permits have also dropped since their peak in 2003 when 429 were issued; Amy Moredock, county Director of Planning and Zoning, said the most recent figures are not as low as Shoge said, but agreed that they have declined since the building surge of the early 2000s.

Sam Shoge

Shoge then turned to national trends for perspective. Since the early 1990s, small counties’ share of business creation has fallen from 32% to 19%, while counties whose population is over 1 million increased their share from 13% to 58%. The share of rural counties and small towns without a bank has grown from about 12% to 32% since 1995, while the amount of money lent in those areas is the lowest in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal. Rural hospitals are also an endangered species, nationwide, with 120 closures since 2005 – and the National Rural Health Association estimates that more than 1/3 of 2,000 current rural hospitals are in danger of closing. Two other components of rural economies, farming, and hunting, are also in decline. None of these trends bode well for Kent, the smallest county in Maryland in terms of population.

Having established these statistics, Shoge turned to examine common arguments against adding a third span to the Bay Bridges. Some say that self-driving cars will make the new span unnecessary and obsolete. Shoge responded that it’s hard to predict when self-driving cars will become mainstream, if they ever do. It is unknown how the insurance industry and other auto-based businesses will greet their arrival. And if they do make an appearance, they may actually increase traffic by making driving easier for everyone.

To the perception that business is thriving in Kent County, with the new KRM business campus and the revival of the Chestertown Marina, Shoge said the percentage of new businesses is actually down 17% since 2005. And hundreds, if not thousands, of new residents would be needed to reverse the decline in school population.

There is also a perception that a third span should focus on mass transit rather than auto traffic. Shoge said that Kent already has mass transit in Delmarva Community Transit, which operates buses between Kent and the lower Shore. Also, mass transit is as likely as road construction to result in a boondoggle, especially in low-density areas. Finally, mass transit is no more immune to opposition from environmental groups than road building; he cited the example of the Purple Line on the Western Shore.

Shoge concluded by addressing the concern that a new bridge would result in Kent being “paved over” in the manner of Kent Island near the current bridges. He noted that 1.5 million construction workers left the business after the Great Recession, with the current median age in that business above 50 years old. And only about 6% of school children show interest in going into construction. Single-family housing construction is currently flat, while multi-family is on the increase. And that icon of suburban sprawl, the shopping mall, is apparently an endangered species, with a quarter of the existing malls in danger of closing by 2022. Retail space as a whole is down by 90 million square feet in 2018, on pace to match last year’s record of 105 million square feet of stores lost to closings. In short, Shoge said, suburban sprawl is a dying trend, with mixed-use development the model currently in favor with planners and developers.

“Our rallying cry should be, ‘Maximize the upsides and mitigate the downsides of a third span,’” Shoge said. He then suggested several planning tools that would give the county an edge in dealing with a bridge coming in from the western shore. A cap on retail square footage, strict architectural standards, and selective extension of water and sewer to designated growth areas would inhibit sprawl. At the same time, putting tolls on local feeder roads, as Virginia has done with local roads paralleling the Dulles Airport expressway, would reduce traffic on those roads. And removing parking minimums and lowering setback requirements would produce more compact neighborhoods.

In conclusion, Shoge noted that the time to adapt is limited, with recessions occurring almost every 10 years. The county needs to be ready before the next recession hits, or it may lose its opportunity to shape its own future.

The Bay Bridge Monitoring Committee (L-R): William Sutton, Torr Howell, and Tom Tontarski

Committee member Tom Tontarski agreed that the time until another recession is probably shorter than anyone would like. Because of that, a new Bay Bridge is probably not going to be built in any short time frame.

Shoge said he had begun by focusing on data precisely because the economic trends don’t look good. Recessions affect rural areas disproportionately, he said, and they have less ability to bounce back than more densely settled areas. Access to a metropolitan area, as Kent County would acquire with a bridge to Baltimore, would improve the county’s ability to recover. Human capital is a key to recovery, he said, and in the current conditions, it is difficult to bring new people here. But while building a bridge is a long-range project, the county needs to be prepared to take advantage of its impact – and to be ready to mitigate any negative effects.

Janet Christensen-Lewis and Mike Waal (seated)

Janet Christensen-Lewis, who has been one of the leaders of the effort to prevent a new bridge being built to Kent County, said that the county’s planning tools are designed to suppress new development, not enhance it – assuming that they work as intended. “You can see it all over the place, where tool boxes were put in place and now they’re restricting what is happening.” She said the tools Shoge suggested are very restrictive. She said the trend to multi-family housing came about because the population is aging – to attract younger families with children, the county needs to increase its stock of single-family housing. She pointed to Middletown as an example of the way access to a metro area affects development, with its huge increase in population a direct result of its proximity to Philadelphia.

Shoge said that all the qualities Christensen-Lewis was talking about are the qualities that make Chestertown and Kent County unique. He said the appropriate use of planning tools was to “ensure that the growth that you do get fits with the overall characteristics of your community, and you’re not using them as a bludgeon to prevent companies or businesses from doing things. (…) Ultimately, it’s going to prevent your Middletown scenario from happening here.”

Christensen-Lewis said that the Route 301 upgrade in Delaware would lead to an increase in the county’s population. The need for a bridge and the necessary connecting roads “seems to be pretty short-sighted” given that scenario, she said.

Mike Waal, a former member of the Bay Bridge Monitoring Committee, said from the audience that it’s important not to confuse the reasons for a bridge with the results of building one. The reason the Maryland Transit Authority gives for building a bridge, he said, is “to alleviate the immense amount of traffic from Delaware and Maryland shore resort areas.” He noted that the full-time population of Ocean City is about 8,000, but during the 12-week beach season, it grows to around 300,000. The major focus of the Transit Authority is on westbound traffic returning from the shore resorts, including those in Delaware, which can be as many “a million people trying to get off the shore” on a peak summer Sunday. He said a bridge running to Kent County doesn’t address that problem. Instead, it connects Kent County to Baltimore City – “and why you’d want to be hooked up with Baltimore City, with their crime rate, I can’t figure out quite yet.” He said the bridge and related infrastructure would create “a monumental headache, environmentally,” for the Transit Authority.

Waal addressed several of Shoge’s specific points. He said the push for autonomous vehicles was on account of drivers slowing down to look at the view as they reach the peak of the bridge. He also said that the current bridges are at maximum capacity and cannot support additional lanes, including mass transit lanes. In addition, people going to the beach want to carry more luggage and other belongings than they could take on a train. “That’s why we have this massive situation with cars.” He said autonomous vehicles would be usable in that scenario. He said the upper Delmarva peninsula should be considered as a regional economic environment, with people who work in Middletown seeing Kent County as a refuge – “a nice place to live.” He said the county’s planners should look at ways to “coat-tail on Middletown” as a way to enhance the county’s economy.

Shoge said he wasn’t looking at MDTA’s reasons for the bridge, but at ways to handle the results of such a bridge and “to catalyze that overall potential.” He said the Upper Shore Regional Council” is already looking at the area as an economic entity. He said the tools he suggested were also applicable to growth moving down from Middletown. “We’re still going to have some semblance of control,” and “maintaining our overall characteristics and good points.” He said he was not opposed to growth along the 301 corridor or to expansion of current businesses – “I’m for it all, in addition to the potential and possibility of a third span.” He said it would solve many of the county’s economic problems by adding to the tax base and the school population and boosting the housing market. “In the best case scenario, we start to realize some of that growth, and I am for it.”

Another Kind of Financial Crisis: Junior Achievement Combats Shore Student Financial Illiteracy

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Little did Junior Achievement know when it started nearly one hundred years ago that the financial education organization would be as timely in 2018 as it was when founded in 1919. J.A., as it’s known to millions of students and volunteers, continues a tradition of engaging young people in the fundamental basics of work readiness, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship at a time when those skill sets are in extremely high demand.

It should be a relief to many on the Mid-Shore that the J.A. has played an educational leadership role in the school districts of Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot County for decades now, as close to 450 volunteers descend on Eastern Shore public schools each year to teach its students such essential life skills as opening a bank account, balancing a checkbook, applying for loans, the dangers of credit card debt,  the importance of savings, or understanding what stocks and bonds are.

With the internet and smartphones now allowing a new generation to simply push a button or scan a thumbprint to almost instantaneously bring anything to one’s door, children of all ages are faced with unprecedented consumer choices, dishonest lenders, and scam artists as they plot their way into adulthood.

Given this under the radar crisis, the Spy sat down with Jayme Hayes, Jim Malena, and Talli Oxnam, three local leaders of Junior Achievement, to catch up on these very real challenges facing the youth in our community and what J.A. is doing locally to address them.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information on Junior Achievement on the Eastern Shore please go here.

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