DENTON — When a 3,000 home planned development failed to come to fruition in 2009, the town of Denton’s administration knew they had to re-evaluate its planning and zoning and reconfigure what they allowed to be built in its small town.
The development, West Denton Farms, began with a proposal for waterfront homes, a 120-room hotel and the promise of a brand-new Denton.
It ended with a two-year long legal battle between Caroline County and developers Rauch Engineering over zoning laws; hundreds of acres of annexed property still unused; and a 10-month moratorium on all developmental projects.
Elected officials, town planning commissioners, and staff, grouped together after the dust settled to pinpoint what went wrong with West Denton Farms and determine how they could avoid disputes like it in the future.
What the council adopted was a pattern-book: a set of rules and guidelines for developments created by national architectural firm Urban Design Associates (UDA).
The firm’s architects informed the town council that pattern-books protect local municipalities by keeping the town’s identity intact — while encouraging development.
Denton adopted the pattern-book, which it still uses today. But UDA wants to expand its reach, and has proposed another pattern-book — this one for the entire Eastern Shore.
Rob Robinson, the chairman of UDA, released the Eastern Shore Regional Pattern-Book in January 2020. He says the book will better plan for development and protect against flooding and other hazards that will arise in response to climate change.
Among a number of guidelines specific to each town and municipality, UDA’s pattern-book allows towns to first address what they want development to look like, including for historic architecture and flood-design implementations, then adopt those permanent requirements for future developers.
“We document these patterns and play them back for standards of new developments,” Robinson said. “Like if you want to extend the main street, what do the sidewalks and buildings look like? All those little things are already there, so we just call them out and keep the DNA of the place intact.”
Local architect Jay Corvan, who runs his own architecture business in Talbot County, is also pushing for the pattern-book designed by UDA. He said it will help towns build more responsibly in the future.
“It’s a way to give towns minimum standards. If you want to annex into an existing town that is incorporated, a developer has a green light to go ahead and can literally destroy the town if it wants to,” Corvan said. “There’s nothing in place for them to be able to defend themselves.”
Corvan pointed to not only West Denton Farms, but also a proposed 260-home development at Miles Point in St. Michaels.
Seventy-two acres of land for a potential Miles Point development was first annexed in the 1980s. It moved forward in 2009, but residents protested the development, which promised lavish homes priced at $500,000 or more.
By 2011, development plans had fizzled out. Officials scrambled over what to do with the land. A private entity, JD LLC, swooped in and bought the property.
Corvan said Miles Point almost pushed St. Michaels to bankruptcy. Between West Denton Farms and Miles Point, the architect sees a pattern repeating on the Eastern Shore, in which large developments that look very unlike the historic towns they are in keep getting proposed.
“In some situations a developer cares about high quality stuff, but we aren’t getting top flight developers over here,” he said. “They’re on the western shore where there is more money.”
The Eastern Shore is facing increasing pressure to build larger developments and facilities, some of which stir controversy and opposition from some residents — this year alone, there was the Nitro Circus in Queen Anne’s County, which got scrapped, as well as proposed salmon and solar farms in Dorchester County.
It’s unclear if a pattern-book is the solution to managing these larger developments. Developers like Bob Rauch, the owner of Rauch Engineering, the company overseeing builds for Lakeside at Trappe and the salmon farm, would need to come to the table.
Rauch said the real estate market is already one of the most regulated industries, and developers are constrained down to minute detail.
“The real estate development industry is one of the most heavily regulated businesses. Federal, state, county and municipal regulations must be adhered to on all projects,” he said. “Environmental regulations are developed and enforced at all government levels. Local annexation, developer agreements, PUD plans, and design guidelines regulate every imaginable detail of a planned community.”
It is unlikely developers would agree to a universal pattern-book for the entire Eastern Shore, though towns do not need their cooperation. But developers should be consulted, UDA has admitted.
Rauch maintains that many successful developments have been built on the Eastern Shore, including The Easton Club, a 340-home development he engineered in the ‘90s, without a pattern-book.
The developer also pointed to Perry’s Cabin and Tilghman on the Chesapeake as examples of other larger-scale developments that have been successful.
“How could you possibly believe that any project is completed with too little regulation?” he asked.
UDA acknowledges that developments undergo strict regulations from towns, counties and the state, even more so after The Great Recession. But larger developments are often wrapped under dynamic and complex contracts that can stretch out over years — as is the case with the mega-development Lakeside at Trappe, which has been slogging for 17 years.
Those are often too big or cumbersome for planning commission members, who are volunteers.
“Lakeside at Trappe was a long, exhaustive process,” said Richard Durban, a former planning commission member for Trappe. Durban was there when the development had its first go-around in the mid-to-late 2000s. “It was taking a long haul to do it correctly.”
Towns like Trappe want to expand tax bases and grow into the modern, 21st Century. That’s why Lakeside at Trappe was supported immensely at first when more than 900 acres for the development was first annexed in 2003.
Durban said he still supports the project for those reasons, but trying to plan for something on that scale as part of a small government was grueling.
The former town official is not familiar with the renewed proposals for the development, which was approved by town and county officials in 2020. Lakeside at Trappe is meeting resistance from environmentalists and residents concerned about wastewater discharge and town debt.
UDA wants to help towns grow but avoid those “exhaustive” processes. They plan to encourage smart growth — not stop it.
“Stopping growth has never worked,” he said. “So we develop a set of tools to be used. Zoning rarely deals with the context of the place — so (these tools) give a more precise picture of what the town is like.”
It could also help with costs and affordable housing.
The Maryland Department of the Environment approves everything from wastewater treatment to air pollution control, and developments are usually highly-regulated at the local level too, with governments determining what homes can be built and how large lots or building heights should be.
Bigger developments under these regulations can be costly for developers as well as for towns, according to the Brookings Institution — which then raises housing prices, making them less affordable. This becomes increasingly difficult and expensive when thousands of homes are proposed and more and more meetings and documents are required.
“The process of building new homes is full of uncertainty and unexpected obstacles,” the 2020 report says. “Regulatory barriers make it riskier, longer, and more expensive, which has consequences for housing affordability.”
But a guidebook for the region could simplify and patternize regulation and streamline communication between towns and counties, which have grappled over zoning laws before.
For example, Caroline County battled Rauch Engineering and the town of Denton over its annexation of the more than 800 acres of property for West Denton Farms, saying it was not within its zoning rights to do so.
Though the two-year lawsuit ended a promise from the developers to pay more than $1 million to the county, the development was delayed and eventually scrapped not long after. Rauch Engineering asked for more than $70,000 in reimbursement fees, though the town did not pay it.
Still, West Denton Farms was a wake-up call that the town’s planning and zoning, as well as its comprehensive plan, were outdated.
“We have a comprehensive plan that needs to be updated and a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Dean Danielson, a planning commission member at the time, in 2008. “There is a lot of funky zoning.”
Rauch said the West Denton Project incurred no harm on the town, only the developers.
“The project did not come to fruition, but that was based upon responsible financial decisions, it was not the result of a failure or the absence of regulations,” he said. “The only one harmed by termination of this potential project was the developer.”
The Denton Pattern Book, created in response to West Denton Farms, goes into great detail for potential developers, outlining the town’s history, architecture, environmental landscape, and issuing steps and design guidelines down to the most minute detail, including, even, for windows.
Its intention is to simplify communication between towns, counties, and developers, for expected growth.
“Like many communities among Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Denton is experiencing intense growth pressure,” the pattern book says. “This pattern book illustrates how to properly plan and design for that growth.”
Donald Mulrine, the town administrator for Denton, said the book is still used to this day. “We get compliments from other cities and towns about it.”
The Eastern Shore has unique land, architecture and communities. Instead of turning developers away, the pattern-book embraces them and molds them to its style, UDA says.
“It’s expensive to fight (developments),” said Robinson. “The idea is to avoid that kind of surprise. You know it is going to come because there is so much agricultural land and the pressure to flip that from bright corn fields into developments is irresistible for some.”
Robinson said when the developments do come, written contracts can become entangled in complicated legal language that often confuses town officials — like with West Denton Farms, planning members realized zoning laws were “funky” only after the development was dragged out for years.
Comprehensive plans, either from the town or county, can be mismanaged when parties write the Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreements, or contracts between the town and the developers. Some comprehensive plans are so outdated as to allow for just about anything.
“Then every road becomes commercialized because that is what zoning allows,’ he said. “There has to be a playbook for what you let happen in your town.”
Corvan called out DRRAs as the biggest issue. He said the contracts are “long-winded zoning ordinances written by lawyers.”
“DRRAs are not static agreements,” he added in a text message. “Developers can change whatever they want.”
Pattern-books can also address environmental and climate change concerns in flood-prone areas and shoreline communities, like many towns on the Eastern Shore.
The Union of Concerned Scientists reported in 2017 that the entire Eastern Shore, especially St. Michaels and Cambridge, face a serious threat from flooding in the future.
“For Maryland’s Eastern Shore, sinking land and rising seas will force increasingly difficult choices in the near term. In Ocean City and 19 other communities, half or more of currently usable land would be chronically inundated by 2100,” the organization said.
Robinson said his pattern book proposals were adopted in Louisiana and Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina, because they heavily examine flooding impacts, shorelines and buffers, and climate issues, unlike any other local comprehensive plans or documents.
The Eastern Shore Regional Pattern Book would be discussed between towns and counties to determine design standards and building requirements, as well as an analysis of local architecture, before adopting guidelines for each locality.
A draft of the pattern-book proposal shows that the project could cost more than $152,000. But UDA will get funding from “multiple sources” including the Department of Natural Resources, according to Robinson.
To win approval for government funding, the first step requires UDA to bring local municipalities together, starting in the upper shore region, and get officials there to agree to a collective pattern-book proposal.
The architectural firm has not made much progress in bringing parties together, considering the pandemic has stopped most meetings. But UDA plans to move forward in 2021.
Corvan explained that towns will eventually come to see the usefulness of the pattern-book proposal.
“The whole idea of this project is to explain to anybody who wants to build — whether you’re a developer of a single house or a million houses — that this is what we expect of you when you come to us,” he said.
The Department of Natural Resources has expressed interest in funding the proposal. Sasha Land, a coastal planner for the Chesapeake region at DNR, reviewed the proposal and the agency was interested “in keeping this dialogue going.”
“Overall, it was found that this was a very forward-thinking approach to plan for climate impacts across the region,” she wrote in a response letter. “We strongly encourage you to cultivate support across the Eastern Shore counties that includes both public and private entities.”
The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy declined to comment on the story, saying previous experts with pattern-books no longer work at the land-use organization. The ESLC would be instrumental in backing or opposing the proposal if it comes under consideration.
While UDA’s pattern-book is unique to the Eastern Shore, proposals like it are nothing new. The Brookings Institution said all parties would benefit from some form of simplicity when it comes to planning, zoning and development.
“Making the development process simpler, shorter, and more transparent,” its 2020 report said, “would be a good start.”
CAMBRIDGE — Two shootings and a bank robbery on Christmas week punctuated the end of a violent year in Cambridge.
One of the incidents occurred Christmas night, Dec. 25, around 9:30 p.m. in the 600 block of Pine Street, An altercation in front of the Elks Lodge resulted in the suspect who was on the ground pulling out a gun and shooting the victim, according to Capt. Justin Todd with the Cambridge Police Department. The victim sustained a gunshot wound to the abdomen and was airlifted to Shock Trauma, where he was still listed in critical condition on Monday, Dec. 28.
Crime reports provided by police show that by the end of October, multiple categories of violent crimes had seen a significant increase over 2018 and 2019.
Police released more information about the Dec. 22 bank robbery of 1880 Bank on High Street in Cambridge. According to police, 18-year-old Ty’Mereah Camper of Cambridge, 38-year-old Darcel Hudson, Jr., of Salisbury and a 17-year-old male juvenile were apprehended after the robbery and were charged with armed robbery, armed robbery conspiracy and theft over $100,000. Hudson was also charged with 1st and 2nd degree assault and reckless endangerment.
All three suspects are currently being held without bond, and an additional arrest is still expected in this incident. Police said that during the incident, four suspects forced an employee into the vault, obtained a large amount of currency, and fled on foot to the West End neighborhood where the three suspects currently in custody were arrested.
Police are still searching for the suspect in a murder on Oct. 24, when they say 22-year-old Ryshon Kelly stabbed Roderick Russ, Jr., to death. “It’s two months now, and this young guy is on the run,” said Russ’s mother, Jeanne Elliott. “Who is to say he won’t do this to someone else?” Elliott said of her son’s suspected killer.
Elliott said she feels compelled to seek justice for her son: “As a mother, you want to do whatever you can for your kids, even though he [Russ] is gone.”
Todd said that while he can not comment on some details of specific investigations, police are making progress and hope to put closure to the open cases. “Like for many 2020 has had its challenges. We have worked since March to deal with the hurdles that COVID-19 has bought us. With that being said it has bought its challenges crime wise as well with our aggressive assaults and juvenile crimes being up as in years past,” said Todd.
“We as a department are looking forward to the new year with the hopes to bring more officers on the force and get our number of officers up to where myself and the administration feel it should be. We will also be looking forward to the continued efforts of working with the community to better relationships. I feel we have come a long with and adding officers and being able to focus more on community policing events will build that bond even stronger. I feel that the leaders of the city from all departments have the same goal in mind and that is to make the City of Cambridge a better place to live and visit. We look forward to continuing to assist in making that happen,” Todd said.
Your donation to The Star Democrat‘s Brighter Christmas Fund has helped over 1,600 children and nearly 700 families during the 2020 holiday season.
From Nov. 24 through Dec. 31, 2020, The Star Democrat and its sister newspapers published stories each day about families in Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Kent counties who struggled to provide a Christmas for their children. These stories were the only way The Star Democrat solicited donations for the Brighter Christmas Fund.
Because of your generosity, parents and caregivers were able to provide gifts for their children. The Star Democrat donated 100% of the Fund’s administrative and operating costs.
We are pleased to continue acknowledging all those who have generously donated to the Fund in 2020, as we are still receiving donations through the mail.
The Brighter Christmas Fund is a 501(c)(3) charity, and tax-deductible donations, which also help other families in need on the Mid-Shore, may be sent to The Brighter Christmas Fund, c/o The Star Democrat, P.O. Box 600, Easton, MD 21601. Donations also may be made online via credit card or Paypal at www.brighterchristmasfund.org. Click the “Donate” button. For more information about the Fund, call 410-200-1884 or email email@example.com.
The total to date is: $88,535.75
Those sharing the spirit of giving with others this holiday include:
M. Rogers Smith and Lisa Falls
Joe and Fran Luggerio
Charles and Jan Bohn
Vanessa, Phil and Ian Wright
Peter and Deborah Smith
Linda and James Nagle
In loving memory of our daughter Laura A. Blue
John and Gloria Kellum
In loving memory of Robert Kellum — Whole Wheat
Rick and Wendy Turnbell
Seth and Ruey Warfield
In memory of my parents Charles H. Sullivan and June C. Sullivan
In memory of Ed and Betsy Covell
Town & Country Wine, Liquor, Etc.
Frances K. Jones
Ann Peters Marvin
In honor of Gavreel and River
In memory of the Hay-Russ Crew
In memory of our parents, from Jim and Mary Lee Church
Stephen and Mary Kay Shearer
Edward and Ann Vogt
Anthony and Diane Mohan
Mike and Bridget Wheatley
ST. MICHAELS — When the local health department shut down Carpenter Street Saloon the weekend before Christmas because of a COVID-19 violation, the bar’s employees lost their last chance to make money for the holiday.
Whether the weekend-long closure was warranted is controversial, the bar’s owner says, but the pain the associated loss of income inflicted on the restaurant’s already struggling employees during the pandemic is undeniable.
Johnny Mautz, C Street’s owner and a lawmaker serving Talbot County in the Maryland State House, said he dipped into the restaurant’s financial reserves to pay his tipped and hourly employees the money they lost due the closure.
The bar was closed down on Friday, Dec. 18, by the Talbot County Health Department for having mask-less patrons and tables too close together based on COVID-19 safety guidelines. The health department reinspected and reopened the business the proceeding Monday on Dec. 21.
Bill Schmidt, the health inspector who issued the closure, told The Star Democrat he gave the restaurant an opportunity to comply with safety guidelines before shutting it down for the weekend. The saloon didn’t make the necessary changes, he said.
Schmidt said he was responding to an anonymous tip he received through the Maryland State Police COVID-19 Prevention Hotline. He said the anonymous complaint was verified when visited the saloon and found a “crowded bar condition where no one was maintaining any required six-foot distancing.”
“Our action was in the best interest of protecting public health and the staff that works at that site, and that’s what we do routinely as a health department agency,” Schmidt said of the closure.
Mautz maintains his restaurant has adhered to safety guidelines throughout the pandemic. But he said he’s worried that, when the dust of the health crisis settles, government’s “overreaching” control over businesses will prove to have done more damage than good.
It’s unclear how much money the weekend closure cost the saloon. Mautz said his bar has suffered more than a 80% reduction in revenue this year amid coronavirus-driven restrictions, shutdowns and operational challenges. For a small business, that’s a “nightmare,” he said.
But his 18 employees, many of them long-time staff members with families to support, needed the money, so he used the bar’s financial reserves to compensate them ahead of the Christmas holiday.
Mautz didn’t say how much money he shelled out. He said he asked his staffers to give him a ballpark estimation of their lost income for the weekend, and he covered it. “Some of them can’t even pay their rent,” he said.
Amber Forest, a bartender who has worked at Carpenter Street for two years, estimated Mautz paid about 10 employees — bartenders, waitstaff and kitchen staff — who were scheduled to work that weekend ahead of Christmas.
Forest said she was “floored” when Mautz told the staff he would be paying them. “I really just couldn’t believe it because in my mind, I’m thinking this man does not have to do this,” she said.
“He’s not responsible for what the health department has done, yet there he was coming out of his own pocket for us to make sure that our families had a nice Christmas,” Forest said. “If it wasn’t for that, a lot of us would’ve been really screwed.”
Forest has three grown children and was planning to use the money she would’ve made that weekend to get her 18-year-old son home by car from U.S. Marine Corps boot camp in North Carolina for Christmas.
“That money afforded me the opportunity to spend more time with my child, who I hadn’t seen since July because of the pandemic,” she said. “If I hadn’t had that money, I don’t know if he would’ve been able to come home for Christmas and I don’t know when the next time I’m going to see him is.”
Despite the money Mautz gave her to cover wages lost from being unable to work during the pre-holiday weekend, Forest said she still fears losing her job every day, and she worries that another shutdown of nonessential businesses could be looming.
“A lot of us have had real anxiety,” she said. “We’re not doctors. We weren’t hired to be enforcers like this, so it’s added a lot more stress to our jobs. One little mistake and we could be shut down again. You have that anxiety all day long.”
Schmidt said when the saloon was reinspected on the Monday morning following its three-day closure, “they were found to be in compliance after they submitted a plan that demonstrated they would maintain adequate protective distancing with their customers seated at the bar and tables.”
Mautz called the COVID-19 pandemic “a terribly difficult time” for businesses like his. “But we are going to get through it,” he said.
“We have always followed the letter and spirit of protecting our customers, employees and community,” Mautz said. “We are open, and we are and will continue doing it the right way.”