Elkton Town Hall, August 4, 2010 — A vacant property at the center of a controversy that dragged the Mayor and Commissioners into court and resulted in a decision that Elkton exceeded its authority has been demolished. “If anyone has gone down High Street this morning, the Collins property was taken down. It’s been a long time coming. We’re all happy it’s gone. It’s been a blighted area of the town for a long time,” Mayor Joseph Fisona said in referring to the 110 Collins Street structure.
The dispute began when two Elkton taxpayers, seeking to stop the municipality from waiving major facilities fees and permitting the transfer of those credits to a third party, filed a suit in the Circuit Court. The case also cited irregularities related to lapses in adherence to zoning regulations. Once people became aware of the board action, controversy erupted at a public meeting, causing Mayor Fisona to announce stricter regulations for public participation since he said “the meeting went off course.”
On July 13, the town agreed in Circuit Court that it didn’t have the authority to transfer financial credits and the action of the mayor and commissioners was annulled. Between these points in time the municipality got busy with the legislative process, passing three ordinances that would have made the earlier actions legal. Judge Beck remarked as he heard this evidence: “It seems to me that whenever a mistake was found you’re [the town] backing up and changing the ordinance . . . . Shouldn’t you have to start this thing all over again?’ he remarked. Any waiver of fees will have to go back through Elkton’s municipal processes.
When the original decision was made the town cited its blight reduction policy as a reason for waiving about $150,000 in major utility hook-up fees for the developer. Someone Noticed filed a Freedom of Information act request at the time to see the policy, but we were informed that it was still under development. We’ve periodically followed up since the board’s approval was based on these gudielines, it said. This evening Commissioner Jablonski, who also serves as the town’s Main Street Manager, brought up the policy she’d cited in Dec 2009 in urging other board members to vote favorable on these requests. “I’d still like us to look into an ordinance for blighted areas. There are empty buildings and boarded up buildings everywhere through the town. I’d really like us to do something,” she said as urged the development of a practice they’d already cited to justify the early votes. To that, Commissioner Hicks said: “I still insist we have appropriate ordinances in the charter. They just need to be enforced.” The matter of enforcing ordinances already on the books is something that has come up frequently at recent town meetings. A similar discussion occurred in June when Commissioner Jablonski brought in a copy of an ordinance related to serving alcohol in the downtown area. The town attorney said why don’t we just enforce what we already have on the books, as the board discussed the legal technicalities of the Commissoiner’s proposal.
Now that the lot is vacant, it’s reported that it will be turned into a community garden. The original approval was for a parking lot, which the town’s zoning ordinance didn’t permit as a use in that area.