Com­mis­sion rec­om­mends Ches. Inn zon­ing change de­nial

Town Coun­cil to hear re­quest next

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­COB OWENS

jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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.

CH­E­SA­PEAKE CITY

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.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

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.

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