Commission recommends Ches. Inn zoning change denial
Town Council to hear request next
— After struggling for more than an hour over how to proceed and whether a mistake had been made in the town’s zoning code, the town’s planning and zoning commission ultimately voted Wednesday night to recommend denying the Chesapeake Inn’s request for a zoning change on a neighboring parcel that holds its valet parking lot.
The vote was not unanimous, as commission member Elaine Shephard said she felt the town had erred when the 15.45-acre parcel off Second Street near Mt. Nebo Road, known as Chesapeake Village Lot 2, was zoned traditional neighborhood development. She noted that a parking lot had existed on the property for more than a decade when the comprehensive rezoning was done in 2012.
The commission’s vote likely pleases neighbors of the parcel in question, as they have raised concerns about the future of the prop- erty. The ultimate decision, however, lies with the Town Council, which is not bound to the commission’s recommendation when considering the request.
The Chesapeake Inn’s owner Gianmarco Martuscelli and his Elkton-based counsel, Dwight Thomey, approached the town last month with the petition to change the parcel’s zoning to village commercial. They did not attend Wednesday’s vote.
Unless it is rezoned to a
commercial designation, the business cannot make changes to the existing lot, since it has essentially been grandfathered in under existing use provisions. Thomey argued that the parcel was errantly zoned traditional neighborhood development due to its existing parking lot. He further noted that while the town created a village commercial zone in its comprehensive rezoning, they failed to map any parcel in the zone, arguing this was an error in the town’s plan.
Martuscelli said he intends to upgrade the longtime lot, including possibly paving it, installing lights for safety, adding landscaping and stormwater management practices, and creating a two-way road into the lot off Second Street utilizing the current path. The eventual goal would be to allow patrons to the Chesapeake Inn to park in the lot themselves and pay a meter to leave, allowing Martuscelli to decrease his number of valets and create a better flow of traffic in the congested area. He estimated that 500 to 600 cars use the lot all day on its busiest days.
But the discovery of a letter from Thomey to town staff, which included the note that “someday the owner may solicit plans for a small boutique hotel on this parcel,” has raised the hackles of neighbors. During the October public hearing on the proposal, Martuscelli told the commission that he was “not in the hotel business,” but also noted that any future development of the parcel would require further approvals from the town.
The commission was evidently concerned about this proposed future use, as they discussed how to amend the town’s zoning code for parking lots without having to change the existing parcel to a commercial designation that would allow such a business. Among the ideas floated by the commission to that end were adding a text amendment to the traditional neighborhood development zone to allow satellite parking lots by special exception or requesting that the Chesapeake Inn merge its two parcels and request the new parcel be zoned maritime commercial in alignment with its waterfront property, which allows parking lots.
At the heart of the issue, however, was whether a rezoning is even warranted under the “mistake or change” doctrine, which dictates that a petitioner must prove, with a preponderance of evidence, that a mistake was made by the ruling body during its comprehensive rezoning or that the characteristics of the parcel’s area have dramatically changed since the last comprehensive rezoning. To rule for a rezoning without proving either would result in “spot zoning,” or rezoning at odds with the town’s master plan — something jurisdictions aim to avoid.
Commission President Lee Adams said that while he “doesn’t see a lodging or inn as completely out of the question” on the parcel, he also didn’t believe rezoning was warranted in this case.
“I’m not sure whether a mistake was made,” he said during Wednesday night’s meeting, noting he was one of three cur- rent commission members to serve during the 2012 comprehensive rezoning. “To my memory, no one came forward for a rezoning.”
Chesapeake Village Lot 2 was previously attached to another large parcel to its west and was planned to be developed into a neighborhood of 42 single-family homes and 60 town homes. That project was derailed by the collapse of the housing market, and the property was marketed for sale. In June, the Chesapeake Inn purchased Lot 2, which it has used for parking for years, according to state land records.
Adams noted that while the parking lot was non-conforming to current zoning, the 2012 Comprehensive Development Ordinance doesn’t address satellite parking lots in any form. The commission discussed how to rectify that omission and seemed poised to make a formal recommendation to the council before they ultimately decided to wait and investigate further, choosing instead to forward only its recommendation that no mistake was made in the parcel’s zoning.
Erin Woodie could barely contain her joy as she waved to traffic and got honks of support in return Saturday morning during the “Human Rope to Stop the Dope” event in Elkton.