Queen­stown de­lays Wheat­lands prop­erty de­ci­sion

Record Observer - - News - By CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

QUEEN­STOWN — The town com­mis­sion­ers have post­poned their de­ci­sion on the Wheat­lands prop­erty and will con­tinue to al­low the pub­lic to comment about it dur­ing a meet­ing in Jan­uary.

A pub­lic hear­ing was held by the com­mis­sion­ers on Wed­nes­day, Dec. 14, re­gard­ing a pro­posed or­di­nance that al­lows a growth al­lo­ca­tion within the Wheat­lands prop­erty lo­cated on Route 301, across from the out­let shops in Queen­stown.

Based on ad­vice from their lawyer, the com­mis­sion­ers passed a mo­tion to con­tinue the pub­lic hear­ing at their next meet­ing on Wed­nes­day, Jan. 11, start­ing at 4 p.m. in town hall.

Af­ter that hear­ing, it’s pos­si­ble the com­mis­sion­ers will make a de­ci­sion on the growth al­lo­ca­tion or­di­nance which would re­zone 60 acres of the 140-acre Wheat­lands prop­erty from re­source con­ser­va­tion area to in­tensely de­vel­oped area.

Com­mer­cial devel­op­ment has been pro­posed for the site, some­times called the Water­man prop­erty which is named af­ter the fam­ily who owns it.

At the Dec. 14 hear­ing, about 10 peo­ple talked, in­clud­ing Barry Water­man of Water­man Fam­ily Lim­ited Part­ner­ship, which owns the prop­erty. Water­man’s at­tor­ney, Joe Stevens, also spoke as well some mem­bers of the pub­lic.

It makes sense for Water­man to get the growth al­lo­ca­tion from the town com­mis­sion­ers first and then pro­ceed with the plan­ning process in­volv­ing den­sity and de­sign of the devel­op­ment, Stevens said. Water­man said peo­ple have ap­proached him to de­velop the prop­erty, but they want the growth al­lo­ca­tion to be ap­proved first.

A max­i­mum of 500,000 square feet of com­mer­cial devel­op­ment was once dis­cussed for the prop­erty. But Water­man said he doesn’t ex­pect that large of a devel­op­ment to hap­pen in the near fu­ture. He en­vi­sions the site to have maybe re­tail, a gro­cery store, restau­rant and a bank.

Water­man also touted the taxes that the prop­erty will be bring if de­vel­oped. Based on com­mer­cial devel­op­ment in the area, he es­ti­mates the site would gen­er­ate $1 mil­lion a year in taxes to the var­i­ous gov­ern­ments en­ti­ties.

Stan Rud­die of Ch­ester said the 500,000 square feet pro­posed for the prop­erty is out of scale with the rest of the area. He also said a large park­ing lot would be nec­es­sary for the project and would cause en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

Also at the hear­ing, there was a dis­pute on whether the hear­ing and pro­posed or­di­nance were prop­erly ad­ver­tised. Two res­i­dents com­plained that they weren’t no­ti­fied un­til close to the ac­tual hear­ing. But Stevens said the no­tice of the hear­ing is re­quired to be ad­ver­tised in the news­pa­per, not by email.

Town at­tor­ney Brynja McDivitt Booth said the hear­ing was ad­ver­tised in the Record Ob­server on Nov. 11 and Nov. 18. But she said she would write up a find­ing of facts and send it to the in­ter­ested res­i­dents.

If the com­mis­sion­ers ap­prove the or­di­nance, the growth al­lo­ca­tion still must be ap­proved by the state Crit­i­cal Area Com­mis­sion.

Be­sides con­sid­er­a­tion be­fore the town com­mis­sion­ers, the Wheat­lands prop­erty is in court and the is­sue goes back years.

The Mary­land Court of Spe­cial Ap­peals re­cently heard oral ar­gu­ments on whether the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers had the le­gal right to re­verse their de­ci­sion on a five-year wait­ing pe­riod for re­zon­ing the Wheat­lands prop­erty.

As of Mon­day, Dec. 19, the court hasn’t is­sued an opin­ion.

Lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the Wheat­lands’ owner ar­gued that re­vers­ing the waiver wasn’t le­gal be­cause the Queen­stown gov­ern­ment an­nexed the prop­erty and there­fore has con­trol over it. But the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the op­po­si­tion said the county has the right to re­scind its or­di­nances.

Queen­stown an­nexed the prop­erty in 2014 and re­ceived a waiver from the sit­ting county com­mis­sion­ers on hav­ing to wait five years to change the land use and zon­ing. But the new county com­mis­sion­ers re­scinded the waiver.

The Water­man part­ner­ship took the mat­ter to the Cir­cuit Court of Queen Anne’s County, which de­clared the de­ci­sion by the new com­mis­sion­ers to be void, up­hold­ing the waiver.

Sev­eral cit­i­zens and the Queen Anne’s Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion ap­pealed the Cir­cuit Court’s de­ci­sion to the Court of Spe­cial Ap­peals. Their lawyer asked the ap­peals court to re­verse the Cir­cuit Court’s de­ci­sion, which would mean the waiver is void.

PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

The Queen­stown Com­mis­sion­ers held a pub­lic hear­ing on the growth al­lo­ca­tion for the Wheat­lands prop­erty on Wed­nes­day Dec. 14. Sit­ting in the front of the ta­ble are Barry Water­man, prop­erty owner, right, and Joe Stevens, his at­tor­ney, left. Go­ing around the ta­ble, left, is Amy Moore, town clerk, George Plumbo, Queen­stown com­mis­sioner, Tom Willis, Queen­stown Com­mis­sioner pres­i­dent, Ho­gie Schus­ter, com­mis­sioner, and Brynja McDivitt Booth, the com­mis­sion­ers’ lawyer.

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