Planning consultants were hired last Fall by the St. Michaels Town Commissioners to examine options for a new town hall and police building. They examined 14 sites and recommended that the new town hall and police buildings be constructed in some combination on either 301 Mill Street (former Skate Park) or 300 Mill Street (existing town building site). In my professional opinion, their analysis and conclusions are incorrect for several reasons. I write this as a professional land planner with over 40 years of experience, and as the former Chairman of the St. Michaels Planning Commission and Town Commissioner. So I am not new to the issue or to the mechanics of conducting site selection studies.
301 Mill Street is zoned MM for Maritime Museum use and 300 Mill Street is zoned residential. Map changes which have been suggested in the report are only permitted under Maryland law when there is a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood where the property is located, or where a mistake in the existing zoning classification occurred, such as a drafting error. I would maintain that changing the zoning for 300 or 301 Mill Street does not meet either of these criteria. These constraints should have been acknowledged in the report.
Tidal Buffer from water’s edge requirements eliminates approximately 40% of the 301 Mill Street site from being available for construction, as shown on the Map in the report Appendix. This is a substantial environmental constraint and deserved more discussion.
The report lists 301 Mill Street’s assessment as $1,573,000. If this is even close to being accurate, then the Board ought to consider listing the property for sale and using the proceeds to construct the town hall at another less valuable site.
The report discusses the issue of flooding on Mill Street. Sea Level rise has become a grave issue in Town, which the Commissioners have acknowledged through the creation of a Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Commission, of which I am Vice Chairman. In speaking only for myself, I find it incredible that the town would invest millions of dollars in public infrastructure at a site that has its access restricted today during a flood event. The Town’s recently completed Harbor and Stormwater Study has recommended that St. Michaels plan for a 1.02 foot increase in normal high tides with a sea level rise increase of 2.4 feet projected, giving us a future increase of 3.42 feet for consideration in siting new structures along the waterfront by 2050.
Sunny day flooding, storm flooding and sea level rise have had impacts on Mill Street, which is the only access available today to the two sites. Public buildings need to be accessible 24/7, not just when there is no flooding event.
Future flood plain limits are estimated to cover approximately 50% of the 301 Mill Street site by 2050. Storm Surge maps show the site within a category two hurricane surge area. It will be argued that Mill Street can be raised to mitigate this flooding, and such an alteration is estimated to cost $428,000. While there may be reasons to raise Mill Street to access existing properties, it is short sighted to add a multi-million dollar building in an area that is in the path of future sea level rise.
The report states that to make any building flood free, that the finish floor elevation should be above 9 feet above mean sea level. Towns and cities should be minimizing or removing paving in flood prone areas, not adding impervious paving in such areas.
It is highly likely that using the 300 Mill Street property purchased with open space funds for either parking or a new building is incompatible with the purpose of the grant, and that 300 Mill Street is not suitable in the future for anything other than a waterfront park.
The report Appendix lists the formal interviews that were conducted. The interviews were primarily with public officials, with only two business owners and no ordinary citizens involved. For a study of this importance, along with the Fremont Street Corridor and Affordable Housing sections, how could it not include meaningful citizen input? All of the issues are of immense importance to the town’s residents, yet no charrette, survey or public information session was conducted. The library is an important institution on Fremont Street that has planned an expansion, and they were not interviewed.
The Community Center likewise is integral to the street and town, yet they were not mentioned. Two of the 14 sites examined are owned by the United Methodist Church. Yet they were not contacted to discuss their future intentions. As Kristen Greenaway pointed out at the February 23 Commissioners’ meeting, the museum was not contacted, and yet the 301 Mill Street property was proposed to be rezoned from museum use. Further, their property was suggested for an emergency access drive, again without any discussion. In my view, these lapses are inexcusable.
I understand that the planning report is a working document, but I urge the Commissioners to not follow its recommendations, without considering the points made herein. Further consideration should be given to 124 Fremont Street, which has had considerable public monies invested in the design process, and 800 Talbot Street, which was purchased with the intent of locating a public building there. Your actions will have a long term impact on the town. Don’t make such important decisions in a vacuum, involve the town’s residents in a meaningful way. Have an open mind.
Dennis Glackin, AICP
Letters to Editor
Hugh (Jock) Beebe says
What an impressive summary containing facts and clear logic that finds credible need for better planning in St. Michaels.
Wouldn’t it be helpful to have such a succinct statement of Talbot County’s Lakeside dilemma.
Rev Julia Hart says
Thank you! That was a very clear presentation. I have wondered what the draw was to Mill Street in the first place, especially when we’re into Tourist Season. It’s not very accessible. But the issues and price tags you bring to our attention makes it clear to me Mill Street should not be under consideration.
Just an “ordinary citizen,” on West Chew Ave.
Jay Corvan says
Public involvement is the cornerstone of all planning
Tasks and to have had no outreach , even via zoom is
Highly suspicious. Every planner worth their salt would
Want public to support a decision as big as this is for St. Michaels. Seems to me that the unstated issue is To redesign the town center after sea level rise of stated 2050 height projections. Anything less than this should be shelved as
Temporary conditions and soon to be lost to impending sea level rise.
Jay Corvan Architect.
Michael Estrella says
Thank you Dennis for supplying us with the complete and factual analysis of this most recent Planning report from an outside consulting group. As I remember it, the move to hire someone to do this work was spearheaded by cosm member Breimhurst and the Faux Group was selected in a bidding process where they were the low bidder. In their final report, the Faux Group says they reviewed a large number of lots and settled on just two, the former skateboard park lot and the current town office lot. It is interesting to note that the skateboard park lot was the location the political group SMAC was very interested in not that long ago.
Recent, the leader of the SMAC group seemed to praise the current cosm for saving the tax payers millions of dollars by canceling the building of a new Town office on Fremont Street. This new report and your analysis of it reveal that there will more than likely be no saving, but in fact a rather steep increase is more likely. The lot they chose has an appraised value of $ 1.57 million in value and road work on Mill Street to mitigate flooding is estimated at $428,000. The lot itself will probably have to be raised as well but there are no estimates for that yet and because of its location, we will be limited in how much of it we can actually use. So, before a hammer hits the first nail, the new cost is more than $ 2 million dollars.
As far as their second choice, the current town office lot, we know that that was purchased with Project Open Space money and have been told that the state would not allow a new building. I find it curious that this firm didn’t know about this or research it. It is also interesting that they made a recommendation that the town use CBMM property in association with the lots they recommended to provide entry and exit to and from buildings but never took the time to speak with the president of that organization about this or any other impact to CBMM plans. Perhaps the Faux Group ran out if time or money.
At the very end of their presentation, cosm member Breimhurst questions the two consultants, asking them if anyone had put any pressure on them to influence their pick. I thought that to be a strange and unnecessary question but we also were told that the only people that were interviewed during this process were the members of the cosm and two business people.
Thank you again, Dennis, for your excellent analysis. I agree that perhaps the best solution is to sell both of these properties and pay the Project Open Space loan back and build what we really need on one of the 12 other locations!
Dennis Glackin says
I would hate to sell the lot at 300 Mill Street (current town building lot). It would make a great waterfront park, which is something that all of the residents of St. Michaels could enjoy.
David Breimhurst says
Mr. Glackin was kind enough to share his thoughts with the commissioners before taking his case public. Below is the personal response I sent him. I would remind everyone that we have received advice from an outside consultant, which now becomes just one of the many factors to consider as we move forward. It is not a final blueprint. All options remain on the table and we intend to keep the public engaged as we debate them.
Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough analysis of the Faux report. Your expertise and historic perspective are valuable resources for the town, and, speaking only for myself, I would hope your comments will be given full consideration as we debate the future of our government facilities.
That said, I don’t necessarily agree with a couple of your conclusions. You make the point that rezoning the skateboard park property could run afoul of Maryland law. As I understand it, that law applies to “piecemeal” zoning which may or may not be the case here. By my count, the town’s zoning map has been altered 24 times since 1983. Further research will be needed to understand the circumstances by which the skateboard park property and the private parking lot owned by the Crab Claw ended up classified as MM.
I disagree with your assessment of the potential use of 300 Mill Street where the town office is currently located. Yes, it was purchased as POS with partial funding from state grant money. I have consulted with Carnie Lhotsky who is the DNR Associate Director of Grants, Easements & Stewardship. She tells me that we could use a conversion formula to build at 300 Mill St. That basically means we would have to reserve similar open space elsewhere in the town equivalent to the square footage of whatever is built at 300. She says this is not uncommon, and the state approves several conversion actions every year. She lives in Easton and is familiar with St. Michaels, and has indicated we would most likely qualify for a conversion.
Your sea level rise concerns certainly warrant more study, as do a number of factors affecting the alternative sites. The book isn’t closed on this, and I would welcome your participation as discussions move forward.
Dennis Glackin says
And just to complete the circle, below is my response to David’s comments:
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my letter. Regarding the rezoning of the Mill Street properties to Public Facilities (PF), I would maintain that spot zoning would be an issue, as 301 Mill Street is surrounded by a sea of MM zoning and 300 Mill Street by R-2 zoning. Piecemeal zoning requirements are set forth in the zoning ordinance, Section 340-196. The COSM would need to make findings of fact as set forth in subsection D (1) for a change in zoning, but the rezoning may only be granted if you meet the requirements of Subsection D (2) (a) – change in character or drafting error.
Regarding the 300 Mill Street property and the State’s willingness to allow the town to build on it, I suppose time will tell whether the State relents on this issue. All I can report was that their answer was an emphatic no when the issue was broached several years ago. But whether the State releases the Town or not, the question for the commissioners is whether land so close to the water’s edge is a place where new buildings should be placed. Not next year or perhaps 10 years from now, but at some point using 300 Mill for a public building will be subject to higher water levels and its attendant problems. Today flood water rises over the bulkhead and sidewalk and onto the lawn of that property. Is it smart planning to continue to build in such areas?
We just returned from a trip south and stopped in Beaufort, SC. They have a magnificent public space with benches, play areas and walking paths that stretch for blocks along their river waterfront. Using 300 Mill Street for a waterfront park would be a wonderful and welcome addition to a town that has very limited public waterfront open space.
Lin Clineburg says
Thank you so much for this comprehensive and common sense view of a very important issue for St. Michaels. Past errors of judgment on the part of the Town have cost the taxpayers dearly.
My own vote for a new Town Hall would be at the entrance to the town at The corner of Talbot and Tricefield.
(Sorry, I couldn’t help myself )
Robwrt Foley says
Great analysis Dennis, thank you for a clear and insightful analysis, keep up the good work