County delays vote on annexing Easton Point
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.
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.