Former officials back Ches. Inn project rezoning denial
— A coalitiontion of five former town officials submitted a letter to the town council on Monday night, putting their support behind the town planning and zoning commission’s recommendation to deny a controversial rezoning near the Chesapeake Inn restaurant.
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 zoning of a parcel of land that holds the restaurant’s valet parking lot from traditional neighborhood development to village commercial.
Unless it is rezoned to a commercial designation, the business cannot make changes to the existing lot, because it has essentially been grandfathered in under existing use provisions. Thomey argued that the parcel was errantly zoned traditional neighborhood development, since the parking lot has existed for more than 16 years. 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 on its busiest days.
The letter, signed by former Mayor Frank Hill, former Councilman Rich Taylor, former Councilwoman Rebecca Mann, former Councilman Lee Collins and former Planning and Zoning Commission member Lee Hutton, is a new entry to the increasingly contentious debate over the proposal that the town council will have the final say on. The former officials represent a portion of the elected and appointed officials who served the town at the time that the 2009 Comprehensive Plan was drafted and adopted. Also at issue in the debate is the fact that the town’s 2012 Comprehensive Development Ordinance has glaring omissions in its defined allowances, including satellite parking lots.
After more than an hour of debate on the petition earlier this month, the town’s planning and zoning commission ultimately voted to recommend denying the Chesapeake Inn’s request, citing that a mistake had not been made in the zoning and no rezoning request had been put forward at the time of the 2012 plan.
The vote was not unanimous, however, as commission member Elaine Shephard said she felt the town had erred when the 15.45acre 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.
But now the coalition of former officials say they back the majority’s opinion on the matter, noting that the comprehensive plan was adopted to “protect the vision of Chesapeake City’s future.”
“Maintaining the small town charm and character that draws visitors and promotes the tourism that benefits the businesses of the town is crucial,” the five officials wrote.
They argue that the zoning for the parcel, which was previously attached to another large parcel to its west and was part of an undeveloped neighborhood of single-family and town homes, was not a mistake at the time of the 2012 comprehensive rezoning.
“Village commercial designation belongs on the Route 213 corridor along with the general commercial designation,” their letter reads. “The area of Chesapeake City known as Mount Nebo would not benefit from fast food with drive-throughs, hotels, motels, convention centers, resorts, dance halls, nightclubs, bowling alleys, skating rinks, indoor tennis and squash courts, billiard and pool halls, rifle and pistol ranges, cinema, movie theaters, or water or sewer treatments facilities — all permitted uses in village commercial.”
Like the planning and zoning commission, the former town officials are concerned about what the village commercial zoning allows even if Martuscelli does not plan on utilizing the land for such purposes. A letter from Thomey to the town, however, said that a “boutique hotel” is a possible future development by the owner.
The commission, before voting to recommend denial, discussed at length how to rectify the existing parking lot with a zoning that does not allow open-ended commercial development. The coalition of former officials seem to agree with the commission’s line of thinking.
“As Chesapeake City plans its growth, it is essential that the characteristics that makes this town such a desirable location for residents and tourists be preserved,” they wrote. “It would be a mistake to change this parcel from traditional neighborhood development to village commercial. The land use within the present zoning can be redefined to allow adequate parking without changing it to village commercial.”
Hutton, a former planning and zoning commissioner member, told the council Monday that the coalition would have more to say at the future public hearing before the town council.
Meanwhile, Martuscelli said Wednesday that while he also awaits the council’s decision on the matter, he feels the concerns over the rezoning request are premature.
“I know a lot of the council and the people in town want something nice for the town,” he said, noting a metered lot there would satisfy other complaints from residents about loud Inn patrons walking through town back to their cars. “I think people will eventually understand that it’s needed and there’s only so much land left in town.”
Martuscelli said he sympathizes with the neighboring residents’ concerns, but he reiterated that should anything be built on the land, such a proposal would have to appear before the planning and zoning commission, where the public would again have a chance to provide input.
“You can’t just start building something nowadays,” he said. “I don’t think planning and zoning would ever allow something that doesn’t address their concerns.”
The Chesapeake Inn is seeking to improve its current valet parking lot, seen here, with one that would eventually be self-pay.