Elkton Town Commissioners amended a zoning ordinance that will allow a senior housing project to be built downtown in a split vote on July 8. Some months ago the development was proposed,but it failed to meet the minimum criteria of the zoning ordinance. Consequently Mayor Fisona asked the professional staff to amend regulations to ensure the project moved forward, the minutes of the planning commission note. The regulatory variances involved insufficient parking, an inadequately sized lot, frontage standards, and height requirements. Once redrafted the regulation, was presented to the planning commission, which approved the revision in a four to two vote.
It was the elected leadership’s turn to consider ordinance 6-2009 on July 8. When the vote was called, Mayor Fisona and Commissioners Piner and Jablonski voted in favor, while Commissioners Storke and Givens were opposed (The town board often splits along these lines.) With the ordinance approved, the Mayor continued working quietly through the agenda.
But when it came time for reports from the elected leadership, things took a surprising turn. Commissioner Piner commented that he was dismayed that anyone would vote against seniors. “When we get to the elderly state, I hope someone provides that kind of facility for us. As a board member, I’m shocked that someone would take time to vote no against this.”
Those remarks set-off an intense exchange since the other commissioners were put on the spot to justify their votes. “Basically Earl I don’t need to air out laundry. I was always told that each person has a vote,” Commissioner Givens responded. He was undecided on this project so he talked to the building and planning officials, the mayor, and others so he was informed of the particulars, he continued. Not fully satisfied with the answered he received he told Commissioner Piner, “I voted my conscience” on this matter after seeking out information. “My vote has nothing to do with the elderly” he continued while noting his record of service for seniors.
Commissioner Storke said he was against it “not because of the elderly, but because the project does not fit the ordinance that everybody else has complied with. The town has held so many other people to the requirements” that he was troubled that they now wanted to change it for one particular case. If they had more space, I’d be pleased to have the project in downtown Elkton he observed. “Why do we need to change the entire concept when others have had to revise their entire plan? I really didn’t want to get into this, but Commissioner Piner brought it up. . . . The mayor said this will fit and this will work,” to various staff members and he’s been pushing them to change the regulation to make it happen, the official continued.
With the matter growing more heated, Commissioner Jablonski joined in. “This is an excellent project. You have the right to vote your own way . . . [but] you have to change things.” Commissioner Givens interrupted, saying “We need not do this in front of the public. If we want to talk about it, do it later.” With that things soon quieted down and the meeting moved on.
It wasn’t too long before Sharon Foster, the chair of the Zoning Appeals Board stepped forward to ask for a closed session to discuss personnel matters. With that the board adjourned for a closed session.