A1 A1
centerpiece featured
120 acres of farmland near Oxford Road, Easton Parkway sold

EASTON — Homeowners at Papermill Crossing, a small 10-home community off Oxford Road in Easton, learned in 2018 that a 120-acre piece of property behind their small cul-de-sac was up for sale.

The residents said they found out when they noticed a sign — which marked the sprawling farmland as a waterfowl sanctuary — had been taken down.

Three years later, the Easton farmland was sold for $2.5 million — to a real estate holding company.

The property known as Poplar Hill Farm is located south of Oxford Road and west of Easton Parkway. It’s one of the largest remaining land masses in the boundaries of the town of Easton that could be either preserved or developed.

The small community at Papermill Crossing had always known the property could potentially be developed. The land was previously owned by the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) Shore Regional Health, which previously had plans to build a new hospital on the site.

The land has also been designated as a waterfowl sanctuary, and it lies in a critical area near the Tred Avon river and other small streams and ponds.

Since the formal property sale this year, Tony Newell, the HOA president at Papermill Crossing, has been working to get the word out that the farmland could be developed.

“What we were concerned about was that everyone who moved around this area and into the suburbs of Easton, has (put in) a lot of work to try and preserve the Eastern Shore feel,” Newell said. “We’re not banding together to (oppose this), we’re really just concerned neighbors.”

UMMS has owned the entire parcel of land, about 126 acres, since 1974. After shifting gears on the site of a new hospital, the medical system began selling the land off in 2016, beginning with the Temple B’Nai Israel synagogue which bought six acres from UMMS.

In a 2018 press release announcing that the remaining 120 acres was up for sale, the hospital system said it no longer needed the land.

“UM Shore Regional Health is committed to its more recent plans to replace the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton on the large site it owns adjacent to the Talbot County Community Center,” UMMS officials wrote.

The real estate company that now owns the rest of the property, 5001 SHR L.C., is based in Virginia, according to a review of Maryland business filings.

The company is represented by local attorney Ryan Showalter. SHR closed on the deal for the 120 remaining acres on March 26 for $2.5 million.

Showalter said the company would not comment on potential plans for the site at this time.

When Newell got wind of the acquisition, he requested a meeting with Showalter. Newell said Showalter told him the property was “always under the rule of potential development,” according to Newell. Showalter sat down with Newell and the HOA to discuss their concerns.

Newell asked for a buffer at the edge of Papermill Crossing, directly between the developable property, where homes could spring up, and his neighborhood.

Homeowners have expressed concerns about what more than 100 acres of development could mean for the small communities on Oxford Road, which includes Cooke’s Hope and Patriot’s Square, and the larger Easton Club on the other side of the street.

Residents are also concerned over environmental reasons, with the Tred Avon river directly downhill from Poplar Hill Farm, making it a critical area. According to the deed transfer, about 65 acres of the property lies within a critical area, and roughly 55 acres is within a non-critical area.

A sign from the Waterfowl Festival — labeling Poplar Hill Farm as a waterfowl sanctuary — was also up from 2005 until approximately 2018, according to local homeowners, who verified its existence with a photograph.

Margaret Enloe, executive director of Waterfowl Chesapeake Inc., said the property was and still is an important habitat for waterfowl, including for turkey, geese and even other animals, such as deer. Still, it remains an important waterfowl habitat, and Enloe said potential developers should install buffers, rain gardens, and stormwater management ponds.

“Our hope would be that whatever is put there is done in such a way that it works with the environment, not against it,” she said. “We as human beings use what I call gray infrastructure to get from one place to another — streets. Waterfowl use what I call green infrastructure. They need connectors, and their own streets and habitats to get from one place to another.”

Tom Ledvina, the secretary for Papermill Crossing’s HOA, wrote in an email that the official stance of the HOA was for preservation of the area, adding that “although we regretfully recognize that this property will be developed, we continue to believe that it is a special parcel of land.”

“If developed carefully, it can continue to preserve the conservation values that are at the heart of this Eastern Shore area,” he added. “The importance of this property in protecting the qualities that make Easton special and for which it has been known nationally were recognized by its maintenance by the Waterfowl Festival as a ‘Waterfowl Sanctuary’ for decades.”

The land, however, is zoned for “mixed density residential” units and the surrounding area is zoned for other residential designations, according to the town of Easton’s revised zoning map for 2021. And the area had long been slated for development in anticipation of UMMS relocating.

Lynn Thomas, the town planner for Easton, said the surrounding area even has water and sewer access, making it attractive for developers.

“There is nothing on the property to be connected to, but I am sure that water and sewer service is available nearby,” he wrote in an email. “The Temple, the apartment project(s) to the south, Cooke’s Hope, Easton Club, and Papermill Crossing all essentially surround the property and all, obviously, have municipal water and sewer service.”

Thomas would not comment on the property acquisition saying that no development plans have been proposed to the town.

Ledvina, of the Papermill Crossing HOA, argued that any potential development of the property should go through extremely thorough town planning procedures and restrictions — otherwise it could change the face of Easton.

“Unless any development of the parcel is carefully tailored, located appropriately, and screened from view from Oxford Road and existing homes,” he said, “the first impression that visitors to the scenic Oxford corridor will have is sprawl, not the scenic, rural environment that makes Easton and the Oxford Road corridor special.”

centerpiece featured
Talbot County Sheriff’s Office saves Teen Court program

EASTON – Talbot Teen Court seeks student volunteers and community partners for the youth diversion program that is now under the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office.

Formed in 1999 by Cory Fink, regional director of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services’ Eastern Shore Region, the voluntary program is for first-time misdemeanor offenders who participate in a teen court hearing with a jury of peers that determines appropriate sanctions. Student volunteers assume the roles of judge, jurors, bailiffs, clerks and attorneys. A key feature of this model is consensus decision-making when determining sanctions. Sanctions may include community service, writing assignments and workshops or classes.

The program serves first-time offenders ages 13-17 who are referred from local law enforcement for certain non-violent offenses. These respondents will receive a mental health and substance screening with referrals to resources, as appropriate. Failure to complete the program results in referral to the Department of Juvenile Services.

“Teen Court is another spoke in the wheel to help our youth grow and accept responsibility for first time non-violent offenses,” said Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble. “Many of us did dumb things as teens, this program will allow our youth to admit to their mistakes, accept responsibility, while understanding there are consequences for their actions.”

Gamble grew determined to continue the program when he learned that Talbot Partnership, which administered the program for the past few years, had to close. Gamble secured funding through the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention with supplemental funding from the Talbot County Council.

“We are grateful for the support of the county council to help finance and support this project,” said Gamble. “Without Governor Hogan’s grant and the support of the Talbot County Council, we would have been hard pressed to re-start this needed program for our families.”

“The Talbot County Council is excited to partner with the Sheriff’s Office on this opportunity for positive outcomes for our community,” said Talbot County Council President Chuck Callahan.

Talbot Teen Court seeks student volunteers in grades 9-12 who can commit to at least four months. Student volunteers must complete two training sessions, made possible through a partnership with Mid-Shore Pro Bono. Mid-Shore Pro Bono also has agreed to support students who show an interest in a law career, with mentorship and community service opportunities. The first student trainings are set for mid-August.

Mid-Shore Pro Bono volunteer Kathleen O’Connor has worked with teen court to revamp the training program, with extensive research, including input from the Center for Court Innovation in New York. The Center has provided research, programming and expert assistance to justice reformers for 25 years.

Her career included serving as a line prosecutor and then supervisor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office; service within the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice; and deployed on detail with the U.S. Department of State in Malta, directing programs for international terrorism.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be a partner with the new Talbot Teen Court,” said Sandy Brown, executive director of Mid-Shore Pro Bono. “We see this as a great way to educate our youth about the legal process, and maybe even inspire a career in the law or legal services.”

The Talbot Teen Court program uses components of restorative justice to hold youth accountable for their offenses while avoiding formal criminal proceedings. Research suggests these programs are effective, with Maryland teen courts showing low rates of recidivism for program completers. Anne Arundel County’s program, for example, reports an 82% completion rate with an 11% recidivism rate since its inception in 1998.

There are more than 1,800 teen court programs across the country, dating back to the first such program in 1899 in Illinois. In addition to reducing recidivism rates among youth offenders, teen court programs typically cost less than traditional juvenile courts, and a greater proportion of offenders may complete sanctions via community service and volunteering.

Students interested in volunteering should email talbotteencourt@gmail. Volunteers should expect to attend several training sessions in addition to court hearings. Talbot County Public Schools students may receive service learning hours.

In addition to student volunteers, Talbot Teen Court seeks nonprofit community service hour partners. If your organization is interested in becoming a community service partner, please email talbotteencourt@gmail. More information also is available at talbotteencourt.org.

centerpiece featured
'Dazed and confused': Man found asleep in Easton apartment charged with burglary, drug possession

EASTON — A Trappe man is accused of burglary after a woman found him asleep on the floor of her apartment in Easton early Monday morning, police said.

Officers from the Easton Police Department responded to a welfare check around 1 a.m. Monday morning after a woman reported finding an unknown man asleep on the floor in her residence. The man was later identified as Clifton L. Morton, 46.

After entering the woman’s apartment, police found Morton on the floor appearing to be asleep. According to police reports, Morton did not wake up when they entered the room, but opened his eyes after an officer attempted to wake him. The officer reported that Morton seemed “dazed and confused.” It’s not clear why Morton was in the apartment.

Officers took Morton out of the apartment and contacted emergency medical services to check on him. Paramedics later confirmed that Morton was okay.

Outside, officers searched Morton and found a clear broken pipe with burn marks, a Chore Boy scouring pad and a folded dollar bill containing a powdery substance later identified as cocaine in his pockets, according to police reports. Morton was placed under arrest and remained “calm and cooperative” for the duration of the incident, police said.

Morton was taken to the Talbot County Detention Center, where he was ordered held without bond at his initial appearance. In a bail review Tuesday afternoon, a judge ordered that he continue to be held without bond.

Morton is charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance other than marijuana, possession of paraphernalia for a controlled dangerous substance and fourth-degree burglary. He is expected to appear in court for trial on September 20.

Previous police reports describe Morton as having an “extensive criminal history,” along with multiple violations of driving without a license and driving on a suspended license. He has pending traffic and criminal cases in the Talbot County District and Circuit courts, according to online court records.

Natalie Jones is a reporter at The Star Democrat in Easton covering crime, health, education and Talbot County Council. You can reach her with questions, comments or tips at njones@chespub.com.

centerpiece featured
Civil rights activists to tour Eastern Shore via bus to highlight racism, Talbot Boys

ANNAPOLIS — A consortium of civil rights activists, religious officials and elected officials will embark on a “Summer’s Freedom Bus Ride” from Annapolis to Ocean City next Monday to bring attention to the systemic racism across the Eastern Shore.

Organized by Carl Snowden, convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders (CAAL) in Anne Arundel County, the Freedom Bus will make stops in Easton, Cambridge and Salisbury before reaching its final destination in Ocean City. 

Snowden said in a statement that this year’s Freedom Bus Ride, scheduled for July 19, is reminiscent of the Freedom Rides of the 1960s to highlight inequities in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and other states across the south.

Many complaints of alleged racial intolerance have been documented across the Eastern Shore, with recent incidents primarily involving alleged police assaults and mistreatment and Confederate monuments.

In Easton, bus riders will stop at the Talbot Boys Monument in front of the Talbot County Circuit Courthouse on Monday, July 19. The statue, which honors members of the Confederacy, has created a divide in the county and is now the subject of a federal lawsuit. The Talbot County Council voted 3-2 last year not to remove the statue.

Moving down U.S. Route 50, the Freedom Bus will make a stop in Cambridge, the birthplace of Harriet Tubman. Civil rights activist H. Rap Brown also visited Cambridge in 1967, the summer of race riots across the country. Brown is known for delivering a fiery speech to protesters in the city, saying “if Cambridge doesn’t come around, Cambridge got to be burned down.” Riots and fires later spread across the city, causing significant damage that the community is still healing from.

The tour will also visit Salisbury — the city where a Black man named Matthew Williams was lynched, dragged through the streets and burned by a white mob in 1931. Williams was accused of shooting his white employer over low wages, and was later taken by police to the hospital with gunshot wounds. Members of the mob came into the hospital to take Williams, who was in custody, to be lynched.

The Freedom Bus will finish its tour in Ocean City, where a group of young Black teenagers were allegedly assaulted by police officers in June. Historically, Ocean City, its beaches and other towns on the Shore had segregationist laws and atmospheres that excluded or restricted Black people and other minorities.

Organizations supporting the CAAL include the NAACP, United Black Clergy, Connecting the Dots, March on Maryland, Showing Up For Racial Justice, Freedom Fighters and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee. Leaders from these groups are meeting with the mayor of Ocean City and plan on holding a press conference once arriving.

“We believe that given the uprising of racial incidents and alleged police misconduct, it is important that elected officials and business leaders understand that systemic racism must be addressed and eliminated in the state of Maryland,” Snowden said.

Natalie Jones is a reporter at The Star Democrat in Easton covering crime, health, education and Talbot County Council. You can reach her with questions, comments or tips at njones@chespub.com.

Jane Lynch, winner of the award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series for "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" attends the 2020 PEOPLE SAG Awards Afterparty at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolf/Invision for PEOPLE Magazine/AP Images)