Elkton Approves Changes to Zoning Ordinance in Split Decision

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.


6 responses to “Elkton Approves Changes to Zoning Ordinance in Split Decision

  1. Thank you for covering this. Unfortunately, the situation was similar with the additional Union Hospital office building that is also being constructed on High Street – when the plan was proposed, there were not enough parking spaces, and other issues should have made the project unacceptable, yet the town easily allowed them clearance to build anyway. I’m glad to see that some of the Commissioners see that they are holding different projects (and people) to different standards, which does seem unfair. Certainly, I am enthusiastic about the prospects of quality senior housing, but those of us who live downtown also recognize that regulations are in place to make our town a better place, too.

  2. EJ

    Thanks for stopping by. Whatever one thinks of decisions like this, these matters are important on a local news beat. But no one is covering them. If we had media covering these worthwhile matters, citizens could make up their own mind. Hopefully we’re filling the gap a little and we think we have a balanced representation of the points from each side.

    Of course, especially from what we’ve been hearing downtown lately, certain groups are getting a little worked up that these things are covered in a straight-forward, netural sort of way, with a presentation of the basic news. We’re hearing a lot and may have an editorial on that later since its an entirely new subject some seem to want to open up. But, oh well, whatever.

    We were actually surprised that Commissoner Piner kicked this one into high gear, because, otherwise, except for the votes, it would have been approved and passed on quietly.

    Your point about the regulations and requirements is the point Commissoners Storke and Givens were making. That is that they were concerned with changing the regulation for one particular project. Commissioner Jablonski was making the point that it is valuable for downtown and regulations sometimes need to change after 20 years.

    As you might imagine, this was an intense exchange, probably suitable for an audio posting. We’d really like to see the commissioners start streaming their meetings so people could be informed and make their own decisions about these sorts of things. There is such a need for an informed public and in a critically underserved media market, that just isn’t happening.

  3. Joe are you watching this.

  4. Watchin Joe

    On this one, the mayor was watching it. That actually became part of the argument, how much he was watching it.

  5. Fred, Elkton voter

    Gary and Charlie you got it right. Those laws were OK for everyone until this came along. The town made the hospital get more parking space instead of changing the rules for them. We start changing these things for each project and all those developers will want new rules. About what those three tried to do down at Hollingsworth Manor. When Joe, Mary Jo and Earl wanted state money to buy that land, it was needed by citizens. Then when that developer wanted it, that was OK. It wasn’t that important to the town then. Gary and charlie thanks for looking out for the town. Voters are noticing.

  6. Fred, Elkton Voter

    Thanks for posting your thoughts on the changes in the zoning ordinance. Also thanks for your point about the situation at Elk Landing. That one was my particular advocacy case and with the other matters, I’ve just been reporting them, though from rumors that are zipping around, you’d think otherwise. Oh well whatever.

    Soon after the town finished receiving state money to buy Elk Landing, Commissioner Jablonski, Mayor Fisonia and Commissioner pushed to hand a part of the land over to a commercial developer. The point you made was the one that always amazed me. It was a valuable piece of Maryland Open Space, until the deveoper decided he wanted to build on part of the tract! Then it’s value was suddenly lost and everything everyone had said to justify getting the state money was no longer relevant. If the three of them had their way, it would have been handed over to some sort of development. It was a point I made at most town meetings, but the only support the argument received came from Commissioners Storke and Givens.

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