Busi­ness owner pro­poses North East river­front walk­way

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JES­SICA IAN­NETTA

jian­netta@ce­cil­whig.com

— A North East busi­ness owner has pro­posed cre­at­ing a se­ries of river­front walk­ways that will con­nect North East Com­mu­nity Park to the Main Street busi­ness dis­trict.

Hud Ben­son, owner of the Port House Grill, came be­fore the North East Plan­ning Com­mis­sion on Tues­day night to pre­sent his pro­posal and ask the com­mis­sion to con­sider in­clud­ing it in the town’s com­pre­hen­sive plan.

NORTH EAST

In an in­ter­view on Thurs­day, Ben­son said that the se­ries of walk­ways would en­cour­age more peo­ple to get out­doors, make the town more at­trac­tive to vis­i­tors and do a bet­ter job of link­ing the down­town area with the North­east River.

“North East is a town near the wa­ter, but it’s not re­ally a wa­ter­front town,” he said. “The river is kind of in­ac­ces­si­ble, ex­cept through the park.”

Ben­son’s plan links North East Com­mu­nity Park, which is south of the busi­ness dis­trict, with Her­ring Snatch­ers Park, lo­cated at the north end of the down­town. At the plan­ning com­mis­sion meet­ing, he pre­sented a map with a se­ries of five po­ten­tial color-coded trails that would run along the river.

A po­ten­tial red walk­way would run from North East Com­mu­nity Park and up Third Street to Beech Street, where it would hook up with an un­de­vel­oped ex­ten­sion of Sec­ond Street to meet West Church Point Road. This trail could be made us­ing a cer­tain type of brick so peo­ple could eas­ily fol­low it from the park up to South Main Street, Ben­son said.

Al­ter­na­tively, a pro­posed gold walk­way would run from the park along the river up to West Church Point Road, he said.

A sec­ond pro­posed red walk­way would run from the park­ing lot of Crouch’s Fu­neral Home down to the river, he added.

The long­est pro­posed walk­way would be the green walk­way, which would be a prom­e­nade of sorts that would run from West Church Point Road along the side of the river clos­est to the down­town, and even­tu­ally all the way up to Her­ring Snatch­ers Park. Ben­son also sug­gested a ma­genta walk­way that would in­volve bridges that span the river, with the main path­way across the river, on the area ad­ja­cent to North East Isles, he said.

Ben­son stressed that all these po­ten­tial walk­ways are just to gen­er­ate ideas for a con­cept he calls “Wa­ter­front North East,” and that he hopes to hear other ideas about walk­way lo­ca­tions and work through any po­ten­tial prob­lems.

Many peo­ple who own prop­erty along the wa­ter where Ben­son is propos­ing the walk­ways be in­stalled spoke against the pro­posal at the plan­ning com­mis­sion meet­ing and Ben­son said he al­ways ex­pected op­po­si­tion and can un­der­stand the con­cerns.

But oth­ers also came to the meet­ing and ex­pressed sup­port for the gen­eral con­cept of link­ing the down­town closer with the wa­ter­front, he said.

He noted that many peo­ple who come into his res­tau­rant have no idea that it’s lo­cated so close to the wa­ter. Sim­i­larly, many peo­ple go to North East Com­mu­nity Park for events but never make it from there to the down­town, he said, adding that go­ing along Wal­nut Street onto South Main Street isn’t a pleas­ant walk.

Go­ing for­ward, Ben­son said he would like to see the wa­ter­front walk­way con­cept added to the town’s com­pre­hen­sive plan be­cause this would al­low the town to seek out grants to pay for the walk­way sys­tem. He re­cently met with San­dra Ed­wards, Ch­e­sa­peake City town man­ager, to talk about the trail sys­tem her town in­stalled along the C&D Canal.

Most of that trail sys­tem, Ben­son said, was sup­ported by grants that Ch­e­sa­peake City re­ceived through the Sus­tain­able Com­mu­ni­ties des­ig­na­tion, a des­ig­na­tion North East re­cently re­ceived. But North East would only be el­i­gi­ble for those grants if the town in­cluded the wa­ter­front walk­way idea in its com­pre­hen­sive plan, Ben­son noted.

He hopes that his pro­posal will con­tinue to gen­er­ate di­a­logue in the com­ing months and he noted that the walk­way will be dis­cussed again at the Au­gust plan­ning com­mis­sion meet­ing.

“At the end of the day, North East is a hid­den gem and it’s go­ing to stay hid­den and never be­come a shiny piece of gold un­less peo­ple make plans,” Ben­son said.

Com­mis­sioner Eric Bra­ley, who serves on the plan­ning com­mis­sion as the town board’s li­ai­son, said dur­ing the town meet­ing on Wed­nes­day night that the plan gen­er­ated a lot of good con­ver­sa­tion among lo­cal busi­ness and prop­erty own­ers that he hopes will con­tinue.

“The whole meet­ing went very well and it will be on our plan­ning board’s agenda for a while as we work through this and see if there’s any fea­si­bil­ity to this,” he said. “It would be a lot to have to work through, but we’re will­ing to look at it.”

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