County de­lays vote on an­nex­ing Eas­ton Point

The Star Democrat - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com

EAS­TON — The Tal­bot County Coun­cil on Tues­day, Oct. 25, de­layed its vote on whether to al­low the an­nex­a­tion of Eas­ton Point prop­er­ties to the town of Eas­ton and to waive or re­strict zon­ing there, due to its long­stand­ing “gentle­man’s agree­ment” pol­icy.

Coun­cil­man Laura Price asked the coun­cil to de­lay the vote on the an­nex­a­tion res­o­lu­tion af­ter hear­ing con­cerns from peo­ple who live across the Tred Avon River from Eas­ton Point who are wor­ried about po­ten­tial noise from live mu- sic com­ing from a planned restau­rant there. His­tor­i­cally, the coun­cil has com­plied with coun­cil mem­bers’ re­quests to de­lay a vote — the gentle­man’s agree­ment.

John Nick­lin, man­ag­ing mem­ber of Eas­ton Point

Ma­rina who wants to bring a crab house to Eas­ton Point, said the restau­rant won’t in­clude a per­for­mance stage for bands.

The big­ger “push and pull” for Nick­lin and his in­ten­tions for his prop­erty at Eas­ton Point lies in the po­ten­tial five-year hold on zon­ing. The county has the op­tion of hold­ing its zon­ing for five years on any prop­erty an­nexed into Eas­ton or waiv­ing its zon­ing to al­low de­vel­op­ment un­der town zon­ing.

“We want to part­ner with the lo­cal com­mu­nity, not drive a wedge,” Nick­lin said. “Hav­ing said that, without some form of hos­pi­tal­ity ac­tiv­ity on the prop­erty, such as a restau­rant, we won’t be able to con­tinue to re­main there.”

Four prop­erty own­ers tak­ing up about 6.5 acres of land on Port Street west of state Route 322 and at Eas­ton Point want to be an­nexed into Eas­ton. Eas­ton Point fronts on the Tred Avon River. The prop­erty own­ers are seek­ing to re- de­velop Eas­ton Point un­der Eas­ton’s gen­eral com­mer­cial zon­ing over the county’s cur­rent lim­ited in­dus­trial zon­ing.

Eas­ton Town Coun­cil mem­bers have ex­pressed sup­port for the an­nex­a­tion and com­mer­cial zon­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, and have agreed to take own­er­ship of the en­tirety of Port Street lead­ing up to Eas­ton Point and be re­spon­si­ble for any im­prove­ments to the road.

Re­de­vel­op­ment at Eas­ton Point has been in dis­cus­sion for many years. Along with the con­cept of re­de­vel­op­ment by own­ers of prop­er­ties there, re­de­vel­op­ment has been the topic of a mas­ter plan study through the Eas­ton Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion.

Nick­lin and other stake­hold­ers in Eas­ton Point Ma­rina have been im­prov­ing the ma­rina prop­erty over the past four years, mak­ing it far from the drug-rid­den prop­erty it was about 10 years ago, Nick­lin said.

“We have demon­strated for the past four years at the ma­rina that we’re cre­at­ing a fam­ily-friendly, com­mu­ni­ty­based op­er­a­tion with the events that we’ve hosted to spon­sor lo­cal char­i­ties, with our part­ner­ship with the mar­itime mu­seum,” he said. “We’ve in­vested a great deal of per­sonal time and money clean­ing that place up.”

Without build­ing a restau­rant at Eas­ton Point Ma­rina, Nick­lin’s busi­ness would not be able to con­tinue. “We’re los­ing money ev­ery year,” he said, adding that a num­ber of fac­tors, such as land and slip rentals, the cost of cap­i­tal and taxes, and the amount of work that can be squeezed in a ma­rina of that size, are at play.

“We need a restau­rant, and so if we don’t get a restau­rant, we won’t be there next year, and then the town is go­ing to be stuck with some un­known ac­tors, which has not been good over the last 10 years,” Nick­lin said.

Ap­proval of a restau­rant would go through Eas­ton’s pub­lic process, which in­volves nu­mer­ous plan­ning com­mis­sion and town coun­cil meet­ings, and pub­lic com­ments. If the five-year hold on county zon­ing re­mains, it also would have to come be­fore the county coun­cil.

When the Eas­ton Point an­nex­a­tion first sur­faced in county meet­ings, Tal­bot County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Corey Pack and county plan­ning staff were wor­ried about los­ing in­volve­ment in the re­de­vel­op­ment process, and wor­ried about what could be built at Eas­ton Point if com­mer­cial zon­ing is ap­proved and the fiveyear hold on county in­dus­trial zon­ing is waived.

“As far as my level of com­fort, I think my ques­tions have been asked and an­swered,” Pack said. “This is GC (gen­eral com­mer­cial). You’re look­ing at the two ta­bles be­tween the GC and the LI (lim­ited in­dus­trial); I’m not afraid of any­thing that I saw in the GC. The fact that any­thing out­side of that has to come back to the coun­cil dur­ing the first five years in or­der for any changes to be made, I was com­fort­able with that, as well.”

The county coun­cil was able to vote on the an­nex­a­tion and zon­ing waiver Tues­day night, but the vote was de­layed when Price asked the coun­cil to hold its vote un­til af­ter a joint county and town plan­ning com­mis­sions meet­ing in Novem­ber to iron out sev- eral de­tails.

“I think a cou­ple of weeks is not go­ing to hurt any­body. The amount of peo­ple that live on that wa­ter­front on the Tred Avon who have been there for decades, I think that we have an obli­ga­tion to make to them to do this right be­fore we just give up all of our rights,” Price said.

“While it’s nice that the plan­ning com­mis­sions are get­ting to­gether, once we vote ... we have some in­flu­ence but no teeth, and that’s re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant to these prop­erty own­ers who have been con­tact­ing ... me about this,” she said.

Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Coun­cil­man Jen­nifer Wil­liams, were ready to vote Tues­day.

Wil­liams said there al­ready was a wa­ter­front restau­rant on the Tred Avon River in that area — River House at Eas­ton Club, al­though it’s not cur­rently op­er­a­tional — that hosted wed­dings and spe­cial events that fea­tured bands and DJs. More­over, Wil­liams said the own­ers of the prop­er­ties at Eas­ton Point who want to be an­nexed into Eas­ton un­der gen­eral com­mer­cial zon­ing can­not go for­ward with their plans un­til the county coun­cil gives ap­proval.

“Wait­ing for the plan­ning com­mis­sion to meet a cou­ple of times isn’t go­ing to change any­thing,” Wil­liams said. “This area (Eas­ton Point) has been this way for far too long.”

Pack said he has not heard any­thing from res­i­dents across the wa­ter from Eas­ton Point, and “that was one of the rea­son’s why I per­son­ally asked the coun­cil to ex­tend that pub­lic hear­ing.”

The county coun­cil in­tro­duced amend­ments to the an­nex­a­tion and zon­ing res­o­lu­tion that say the county plan­ning com­mis­sion will con­tinue to work with the Eas­ton Plan­ning Com­mis­sion on fu­ture de­vel­op­ment plans for Eas­ton Point, which Coun­cil­man Dirck Bartlett said was good for the county to keep a seat at the ta­ble in on­go­ing Port Street re­de­vel­op­ment con­ver­sa­tions.

The Tal­bot County and Eas­ton plan­ning com­mis­sions are set to meet to­gether Tues­day, Nov. 15. The county coun­cil’s vote was de­layed un­til that night.

PHOTO BY JOSH BOLLINGER

Pic­tured above in this Septem­ber file photo is Eas­ton Point Ma­rina, one of the prop­er­ties at Eas­ton Point that wishes to be an­nexed. The owner of Eas­ton Point Ma­rina has ex­pressed in­ter­est in re­de­vel­op­ing his prop­erty into a wa­ter­front restau­rant.

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