The Star Democrat - - LOCAL -

Town of­fi­cials opened win­dows, in­vited spec­ta­tors into ad­ja­cent of­fices and put the pro­ceed­ings on speaker phone in those of­fices for bet­ter lis­ten­ing.

More than thirty peo­ple signed up to tes­tify, but when it be­came ob­vi­ous that the time for pub­lic com­ment would not hap­pen for hours and there was nowhere to sit, Plan­ning and Zon­ing Of­fi­cer Sarah Abel ar­ranged with the Board of Zon­ing Ap­peals for those wait­ing to com­ment via e-mail.

At the end of the meeting, around 9:15 p.m., Abel called up those e-mails and read the names of those who had sent them into the hear­ing’s record.

The prop­erty over which de­tails are be­ing de­bated is the old St. Michaels Citgo gas sta­tion at 906 South Tal­bot Street.

The prop­erty was sold in April 2017 to a group of busi­ness­men, Amer­i­can Cor­ner LLC, and their de­sire is to tear down the old gas sta­tion build­ing, con­struct a much larger build­ing that is pre­dom­i­nantly a con­ve­nience store con­tain­ing a cof­fee shop, a sep­a­rate car wash, and in­crease the num­ber of dou­ble gas pumps from two to six, among other things.

Slowly gain­ing mo­men­tum, cit­i­zen protests have cen­tered around not want­ing to have a large, mod­ern com­mer­cial build­ing in a gate­way po­si­tion to the his­toric town, doubt­ing the need for an ex­panded gas sta­tion when they al­ready have two, heavy traf­fic con­ges­tion in the town made worse, the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing to in­stall a traf­fic light and dan­ger to school chil­dren cross­ing busy Tal­bot Street to reach the com­plex. There are also en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions have been go­ing on for over a year, with the plans mov­ing from Plan­ning Com­mis­sion to Tech­ni­cal Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee to Board of Zon­ing Ap­peals and back again.

Many de­tails were changed to suit the town’s code, but with many de­tails still yet to be set­tled, the St. Michaels Plan­ning Com­mis­sion passed the pre­lim­i­nary site plan unan­i­mously on Au­gust 7.

A month later, David Beau­re­gard II, who owns a home at 903 Tal­bot Street, filed an ap­peal of the plan­ning com­mis­sion’s ap­proval through his at­tor­ney, Zach Smith.

Dur­ing the ap­peal hear­ing, Beau­re­gard and Smith con­tended that there are six ma­jor points in the pre­lim­i­nary plan that do not meet the town’s code.

Many of the is­sues in­volve re­quired num­bers of park­ing spa­ces based on the square footage of the pro­posed build­ings and their uses.

Cit­ing Sec­tions 340-34 C, -34D, -25A and -17B of the town code, they stated that they felt that the wrong def­i­ni­tions were be­ing used and in­ad­e­quate park­ing was pro­vided. There was no park­ing pro­vided for the car wash, they said, and gas sta­tion bays were be­ing counted as park­ing spa­ces.

They also said there were vi­o­la­tions of the code in stormwa­ter man­age­ment and land­scape beds.

Rep­re­sent­ing Amer­i­can Cor­ner LLC was at­tor­ney Brynja Booth.

On the Amer­i­can Cor­ner LLC team there was Mo­hammed Nasser, Nadeem Ashraf, Nas­rul­laah “Nick” Khan, ar­chi­tect Chris­tian Chute of Atelier 11, plan­ner Sean Cal­la­han and Waqar Cheema. Also on the team is fuel me­chan­i­cal parts con­trac­tor John Har­ri­son and Nate Hox­ter of Lane Engi­neer­ing, among oth­ers.

Booth took each point and re­vis­ited def­i­ni­tions in re­la­tion to each claimed vi­o­la­tion. It was dis­cussed that a car wash would not need park­ing due to the na­ture of the ser­vice go­ing on in­side the build­ing.

It was also dis­cussed that pa­trons could park in gaso­line bays and not nec­es­sar­ily pur­chase gaso­line.

Rep­re­sent­ing the St. Michaels Plan­ning Com­mis­sion was at­tor­ney Pa­trick Thomas, who was present along with Chair­man Den­nis Glackin.

Pub­lic com­ment did not start un­til about 8:30 p.m., about three hours into the meeting. By that time, there was no one wait­ing out­side.

Board of Zon­ing Ap­peals Chair­man Wil­liam Har­vey ad­vised cit­i­zens mak­ing com­ment that they needed to con­fine their re­marks to the six points that were be­ing de­bated in the ap­peal.

Those town res­i­dents who tes­ti­fied in per­son in­cluded Su­san Reiss, Marie Martin, John No­vak and Erin Hyn­son, among oth­ers.

“I think the plan for this pro­posal is too big,” Reiss said. “It is not in keep­ing with the per­son­al­ity of the town.”

“We live by the tourists,” Reiss said. “I think hav­ing them see some­thing like this when they first come into town is a mis­take. I’m ver y dis­ap­pointed these ex­cep­tions were granted.”

She said she looked to the Board of Zon­ing Ap­peals to help the town “come to­gether” and work to­gether.

Marie Martin said she was dis­heart­ened about the lack of the “sense of em­pa­thy” that those in­volved had about in­sert­ing a mod­ern build­ing among his­toric ones.

“I also agree that it could be­come harm­ful to our tourist trade — peo­ple com­ing into the town,” she said. She said she hoped a tree buf­fer could be in­cluded to keep that im­age from be­ing so ob­vi­ous.

John No­vak said he had known about the project for sev­eral months but only re­cently be­came aware of its size.

“I was shocked quite frankly by the size of it,” he said. He said he had lived in the town for four years and knew what traf­fic was like dur­ing the tourist sea­son.

“With a two-lane road and with­out a third left turn lane, you’ll have peo­ple com­ing into the town and mak­ing a left turn across that traf­fic ... you’re go­ing to add a sub­stan­tial con­ges­tion fac­tor,” he said.

Erin Hyn­son said she re­al­ized the plans were still in flux, but she hoped the board would make sure the new ad­di­tion would not de­tract from sur­round­ing his­toric prop­er­ties, and pos­si­bly de­crease the value of those prop­er­ties.

She talked about the im­pact on sur­round­ing prop­er­ties in terms of noise, glare and traf­fic.

Hyn­son said that, ac­cord­ing to her un­der­stand­ing of the town’s com­pre­hen­sive plan, one of St. Michaels’ mis­sion state­ments was to con­tinue to work very hard not to de­tract from “its small town at­mos­phere.”

She read from a book on St. Michaels that talked about the es­tab­lish­ment of the town’s His­toric District Com­mis­sion.

Dozens of e-mails were re­ceived be­fore the end of the meeting at 9:15 p.m. and were en­tered into the hear­ing record as pub­lic tes­ti­mony.

Af­ter four hours of lis­ten­ing to pros and cons, Har vey sug­gested the Board of Zon­ing Ap­peals would be fresher if the hear­ing could be con­tin­ued later on in the week, and it would also give the board mem­bers a chance to mull over what they had heard.

He closed the pub­lic com­ment por­tion of the hear­ing and it was agreed that the Board of Ap­peals would con­tinue with its de­lib­er­a­tions at 1 p.m. Fri­day, Oct. 12, at the St. Michaels Town Of­fice on Mill Street. Pub­lic com­ment is closed, he said, but the meeting is open to the pub­lic.

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