As a co-equal member of the St. Michaels governing body, I respect Commissioner Bill Boos, but he and I have very different views of the town’s efforts to build a new town office.
For the record, Mr. Boos was speaking for himself as a private citizen, not on behalf of the Commissioners of St. Michaels in his recent guest opinion (Star Democrat 2/19/2019) and in the Talbot Spy. To paraphrase a respected U.S Senator; he is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own facts. What follows is my personal opinion.
I believe the taxpayers of St. Michaels deserve an informed decision on where to build a new town office and police station. And I believe the most fiscally responsible choice is to build a joint one-story facility on the 1.2 acre lot the town owns across from the current town office on Mill Street. Mr. Boos believes the best choice is to build a two-story town office on a much smaller lot on Fremont Street, while renovating the current police station. We will never definitively know which is the most economical choice without an independent architectural and engineering assessment of both sites.
On at least three occasions, I have introduced resolutions at town commission meetings to conduct a feasibility study comparing both lots. And on every occasion, except one, Mr. Boos and Commissioner Jaime Windon have succeeded in blocking the motion. More on that one exception in a moment.
Mr. Boos asserts that the issue has been studied thoroughly and that we did spreadsheets comparing the sites. In fact, there has not once been a comprehensive study of all of the town’s options. I served with Mr. Boos on the ad hoc committee that was empaneled to study the issues with the existing town office and police station. Throughout that process, the Mill Street lot was never on the table. We were told by Mr. Boos and Town Manager Jean Weisman that it was not available because the town had signed a letter of intent to sell it to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. A letter of intent is not a contract and is non-binding. We were also told the lot was unbuildable because of a network of underground sewer lines. We now know that’s not true.
In his guest opinion, Mr. Boos asserts that the final decision to build a town office on Fremont Street and renovate the police station was based, in part, on the opinions of two architectural firms hired by the town. Those two firms, in fact, did not recommend building a new town office on Fremont Street. The initial firm, Crosby & Associates, recommended building a new town office on another lot the town owns on Boundary Lane, and building a new police station on the Fremont Street lot. The second firm was brought on to look at only the Fremont Street site for a new town office. Neither firm was directed to also take a look at the Mill Street lot.
In March of 2018, the town solicited proposals for design work on a new town office to be located either on the Fremont Street lot or the Boundary Lane lot. The Mill Street lot wasn’t even in the running. The town received bids from nine architectural firms. The bids were opened on April 13th, and the wheels were in motion.
The decision to build on Fremont Street came together rapidly over a three month period last summer, and Mr. Boos was the driving force.
Here is how it unfolded: On June 28th, at a meeting of the ad hoc committee, I raised the possibility of using the Mill Street lot. But, that notion was dismissed because, according to a memo the committee sent to the Commissioners, “the sewer plant parcel had been looked at earlier in our meetings and had been disregarded because of the letter of intent with the museum and the sewer lines that run through the property.”
At the Commissioners meeting on July 11th, Mr. Boos introduced a resolution to build a new town office on the Fremont Street lot. No one seconded the motion. I suggested the Mill Street lot would be a better choice. Commissioner Harrod agreed. Commissioner Gorman said he favored Fremont Street but could be persuaded that Mill Street might be a better choice if the numbers supported it. Commissioner Windon said she’d like to see financial comparisons. Mr. Boos then agreed, according to the minutes, that “a more in depth look at the costs associated with the Mill Street lot was appropriate.” Minutes later, he voted against doing just that. I moved that we ask the county to take a look at the sewer line issue before eliminating the Mill Street lot from consideration. The motion passed 3-1 with Commissioner Gorman recusing himself and Commissioner Boos casting the only nay vote. Mr. Gorman recused himself because he is an employee of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum which had been seeking to acquire the Mill Street lot for parking.
On July 19th, the county engineer and the town’s consulting engineer took a look at the Mill Street lot at our request. The county engineer suggested the sewer lines could easily be moved at minimal expense, and that the move could be paid for with grant money at no cost to the town. Town Manager Jean Weisman shared that information with the Commissioners in a memo, and added that she would receive final word on the county’s investigation by the second week of August.
But Mr. Boos apparently decided there was no need to wait for that report before voting. In his guest opinion Mr. Boos claimed that the commissioners were “completely aware” that the Mill Street lot could be built on before the vote for Fremont Street. How could we be completely aware before we received a professional report from the county, or anyone else?
At the commission meeting on August 8th, before the county completed its investigation, Mr. Boos again introduced a resolution to build a new town office on the Fremont Street lot. The meeting was packed with supporters of the museum, who had been encouraged to be there, urging us to choose the Fremont Street lot. Museum President Kristen Greenaway, who is not a town resident, was among those who addressed the Commission. According to the minutes, she “encouraged the Commissioners to choose the Fremont Street location for the new Town Office as the best and most logical location.”
I felt pressured at the time, and now regret that I failed to buck the momentum, and voted for the motion to build on Fremont Street. I did so with the conviction that the lot was too small to accommodate the required parking, and that it would have a prohibitive problem with storm water drainage. In my mind, those were insurmountable obstacles and I was sure the Fremont Street lot would have to be abandoned. I clearly underestimated Mr. Boos’ determination.
The town Planning Commission is currently in a year-long process of rewriting the town code to bring it up to modern standards. Instead of waiting for their final recommendations, Mr. Boos went to the Planning Commission and urged them to change the code’s parking regulations now. He was able to convince them to reduce the required number of parking spaces for municipal buildings, thereby clearing the decks for the small Fremont Street lot. At our January meeting, I and Commissioner Harrod voted against the the parking code change. The final vote was 3-2 in favor. This time Commissioner Gorman did not recuse himself.
The drainage issue at the Fremont Street site remains under investigation.
I am convinced that the course we are on now may be a costly mistake. I believe that building a joint town office/police station on the Mill Street lot could save taxpayers millions of dollars in the years ahead. And it’s certainly more economical than renovating the current police station, against the advice of the experts we’ve hired, only to be faced with replacing the building a few years down the road. Two years ago, Crosby & Associates concluded that it was not possible to expand the current police station and that renovating it would be a waste of money. Yet, here we are, planning to renovate and add on to the police station at considerable cost. Mr. Boos, in his guest opinion, stated that 90-percent of the deficiencies at the police station have been corrected. That is simply not true. As a qualified builder, I pitched in to erect new walls at the police station, but the full list of remedies has barely been scratched.
Mr. Boos claims, without offering any evidence whatsoever, that what I propose would cost upwards of $5-million. I believe that’s a grossly overinflated number. And it doesn’t take into account the economies of combining the town office and police station under a one-story roof. He states that the difference between the costs of a one-story and a two-story building are minimal. When Crosby & Associates looked at it, they concluded a two story building would cost almost $200,000 more.
There’s only one way to determine which of us is right. Let’s do what we voted to do back on July 11th; study the viability of the Mill Street lot. And this time, let’s wait until the facts are in before acting. Let’s have an independent study of the costs involved with both options. The taxpayers of St. Michaels need to know, without a doubt, that we are spending their money responsibly.
Commissioner, St. Michaels