For­mer of­fi­cials back Ches. Inn project re­zon­ing de­nial

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­COB OWENS

jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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

CH­E­SA­PEAKE CITY

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.”

MAP COUR­TESY OF GOOGLE

The Ch­e­sa­peake Inn is seek­ing to im­prove its cur­rent valet park­ing lot, seen here, with one that would even­tu­ally be self-pay.

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