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